Will Democrats Pass Affordable Health Insurance Reform?

The fight over healthcare reform has reached the Senate, and may take longer than previously expected. Reform intended to promote the wider availability of affordable health insurance seems to have lost the momentum recently gained via its nail-biting passage in the House of Representatives. Republican senators have expressed unanimous disapproval of the bill and vow to filibuster in order to block it. Healthcare reform will require 60 votes to pass, which means that the entire Democratic caucus–the party’s entire Senate delagation with a handful of independents–needs to support it. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is attempting to hold together two divergent wings of the Democratic caucus, with several factors coming into play.

As it currently stands, the health care reform bill isn’t ideal for either liberal or conservative Democrats. While Democratic leaders have encouraged passage under the logic of imperfect reform being preferable to leaving the current system as it stands with soaring health insurance rates, many senators are understandably leery of voting for legislation that will take a monumental effort to amend later. Reid is doing his best to convince Democrats, as well as Democratic sympathizers, that this is a rare opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. Whether he will manage to bring them around to his viewpoint remains to be seen. President Obama has also pushed for a completed bill on his desk before January, although that possibility is becoming more and more remote. Obama has several major priorities on his plate (both domestic and foreign) besides healthcare reform, and is currently suffering from lower popularity ratings. Therefore, his influence is probably more decreased than many once thought.

One of the most controversial aspects of healthcare reform is the public option, which would create a federal government-run alternative to private health insurance plans. Proponents claim that it would drive down the cost of health care through using its buying power and regulatory muscle to buy health care services at lower rates, while at the same time forcing for-profit health insurers to lower their health insurance premiums to stay competitive. They predict more affordable health insurance as the result. On the other hand, opponents decry the increased level of governmental involvement and potentially deficit-busting cost of a public option. The former group consists of liberal progressives, such as independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. Sanders, in particular, is threatening to vote against a bill that lacks a public option. Those in the latter group, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Connecticut’s independent Joe Lieberman, have expressed their willingness to jump ship and vote against a healthcare reform bill that includes a public option.

The Democratic caucus appears to have reached an impasse in some respects. A compromise currently proposed in the Senate allows individual states to opt out of the public option. Liberals seem to begrudgingly accept the clause, but it isn’t good enough for staunch fiscal conservatives like Lieberman and Nelson. Due to the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the Senate, Reid can’t afford to lose a single vote. The chances of garnering Republican support for this healthcare reform bill are slim to none. The only hope of doing so is through writing a trigger function into the bill. Such a measure would only enact a public option if certain goals of expanding affordable health insurance to more Americans are not met. There may be a handful of Republican moderates like Maine Senator Olympia Snowe willing to vote for such a measure, allowing for a cushion in the event that Lieberman bolts; but that gamble has the possibility of angering progressives.

In the recent past, liberal Democrats tended to hold their nose and vote for legislation they had serious issues with because it was preferable to the alternative of getting even less of what they wanted; now, they are becoming more outspoken, threatening to withhold their votes if provisions regarding the public option or abortion are unacceptable to them–using the same tactics conservatives on both sides of the aisle have used to pressure party leaders in the past. It will be a significant struggle to keep all of the Senators in line. The bill is still being written, but Reid appears to be supporting a moderate approach that, by its definition as a comprehensive healthcare reform bill, leans more towards centrist and liberal Democrats but still has too many flaws for them to endorse wholeheartedly.

The chances of healthcare reform soon passing the Senate are mixed. Michigan Senator Carl Levin believes that the bill stands a “decent chance” of gaining the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Indiana’s Evan Bayh seems to be similarly ambivialent, though he admits that a solution that satisfies everyone is virtually impossible. Meanwhile, Republicans are calling the bill fatally flawed and recommending that it be scrapped and healthcare reform put on the back burner. That idea is unacceptable to Democrats, who believe that increasing access to affordable health insurance is essential to their larger economic recovery effort. Moreover, they probably want to have some legislation to show their constituents before the 2010 midterm elections. If the Senate manages to pass the bill, its version will need to be combined with the House’s version. In the event that the combined bill is approved by both chambers of Congress, it then goes to President Obama’s desk. While it is doubtful that he would veto a bill regarding one of his highest domestic priorities, one that strays too far from its indended purpose has the small chance of not receiving a signature.

Grinding It Out – 2 Days In The Life of Senator Charles Schumer

There are some political leaders who have the gift of gab; they sparkle on camera, whether they are giving a speech or being interviewed. Think Regan, Clinton or Blair.

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is not one of those. Schumer has the style, charm and like-ability of your least favorite high school chemistry teacher who always made sure to give you extra homework on the Friday before a holiday weekend. But what Schumer lacks in natural charm, charisma, and good looks, he more than makes up for through sheer hard work and tenacity when it comes to his media presence.

Schumer gets more media attention in any 48 hour period than most senators get in two months.

Here is a partial breakdown of news coverage he received during a two-day period:

Sunday, June 18, 2006; 7:18 PM Wire service story NEW YORK — A reported plot by al-Qaida terrorists to kill thousands of New Yorkers by spreading cyanide gas in the subway underscores the folly of a Homeland Security Department cutback of funds for major cities, a Democratic lawmaker said Sunday. “This is just more evidence that what Homeland Security did to us was terribly misguided and just wrong,” Sen. Charles Schumer said. “It shows that New York is the prime target, and shows the importance of prior intelligence and of manpower.”

Schumer is quoted because he uses the sound bite stable of attacking. Reporters can’t pass up politicians launching attacks. Sunday June 18th, as heard on WINS radio 8:30 PM While commenting on delays at New York City airports. Schumer said, “Laguardia, JFK, and Newark should be renamed Late, Later, and Latest.”

Schumer delivers the perfect sound bite because it has a classic three part list, followed by attacks, followed by another three part list, punctuated with humor. Reporters will always use this type of a quote whether they like the politician using it or not.

Please note that both of these stories broke on Sunday. Schumer has a press conference every Sunday because he realizes that most politicians and newsmakers want the day off and he has a better chance of getting news coverage. In this case, his tirade against late planes got him on the most listened to news radio station in America.

Monday June 19th 2006 On Mad Cow disease “It’s been 20 years since mad cow disease was first reported in Europe and about three years since it was discovered in the United States,” he said, “and yet there still is no comprehensive way to track tainted meat and to pull it off the shelves.”

Again, Schumer is highly quotable because he is attacking and suggesting strong actions.

Tuesday Morning June 20th 2006 Wire stories WASHINGTON Senator Charles Schumer pressed Governor Pataki today to “show some leadership” and preserve a state program aimed at creating jobs by offering companies cheap electric rates.

When a Senator attacks a governor, that is always going to be news.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 Wire stories WASHINGTON – Regarding Democratic fundraising, “Our fundraising success reflects a deep desire for change and recognition that the best way to get things back on track is by electing more Democrats to the Senate,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic committee.

Schumer speaks in strongly emotional terms; reporters love emotion.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006; 3:01 PM From wire services WASHINGTON — A New York senator accused the drug giant Merck & Co. on Tuesday of conspiring to undercut a cheaper generic alternative to its cholesterol-lowering drug Zocor just days before it becomes available to patients….”I find this practice highly disturbing and anticompetitive,” Schumer wrote the agency. “Time is of the essence given the imminence of the generic drug’s entrance into the market, and I urge you to begin an investigation of these anticompetitive behaviors expeditiously.”

Again, Schumer uses attacks and emotion and guarantees himself press coverage.

End of 48 hour examination.

If you are going to be as aggressive in courting the news media as Schumer is, you must be prepared for criticism. In fact, one of the longest running jokes in Washington is that the most dangerous place to be in DC is standing between Schumer and a TV camera (you would be knocked down in his haste to get to the camera.)

But there are distinct advantages to being Shumer-esque in your media strategy. Schumer has name recognition in his home state of New York that would cost other politicians tens of millions of dollars to buy via expensive New York City media market TV ads. It’s no coincidence that when Schumer ran for re-election in 2004 he had no serious opposition. His opponents could not find a serious candidate to run against Schumer because, in part, his media omnipresence made it seem impossible to define him in a new, negative way to voters.

There are other benefits to being in the media as often as Schumer is. While Schumer will never be as famous as his fellow New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Schumer is still famous enough to count in a town of big egos like New York City. Schumer’s fame helps him raise tons of cash from Wall Street millionaires who probably don’t like or even vote for Schumer, but he’s simply too big a public character to ignore. Schumer can also feel proud in knowing he built his fame one story at a time. He’s had no built in advantages of inherited wealth, celebrity-by-marriage, or fame through earlier sports success the way other New York area politicians have.

I might not always agree with Schumer’s political target (though often I do), but I do have a tremendous respect for his understanding of the media game and his wholehearted willingness to play it to the fullest. My point is not to praise Schumer or to condemn him (plenty of others do both regularly). But no one can deny that he is a brilliant practitioner of the media arts. Schumer is the Larry Bird of sound bites. His natural physical abilities may be slim, but though a tremendous work ethic and a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, he always scores.

Leadership and Overcoming Adversity – The US Army Major General Sid Shachnow Story

This groundbreaking leadership research by has received extensive endorsements and enthusiastic reviews from well-known prominent business, political, and academic leaders who either participated in the study or reviewed the research findings. You will discover the proven success habits and secrets of people who, in spite of difficult or life threatening challenges shaped their own destiny to become successful, effective leaders.

The nine initial prominent successful leaders who overcame adversity that were interviewed included: Dr. Tony Bonanzino, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Monzer Hourani, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Dr. John Malone, Larry Pino, U.S. Army Major General Sid Shachnow, Dr. Blenda Wilson, and Zig Ziglar.

The data from the above nine research participants was materially augmented by seven other successful leaders who overcame adversity including: Jack Canfield, William Draper III, Mark Victor Hansen, J. Terrence Lanni, Angelo Mozilo, Dr. Nido Qubein, and Dr. John Sperling.

Additionally, five internationally known and respected leadership scholars offered their reviews of the leadership research findings including: Dr. Ken Blanchard, Jim Kouzes, Dr. John Kotter, Dr. Paul Stoltz, and Dr. Meg Wheatley.

This is a short biography of one of the principal participants who generously contributed their time and insight for this important research into the phenomenon of how prominent successful leaders overcome adversity and obstacles. This General Sid Shachnow’s story:

General Sid Shachnow survived the Nazi Holocaust. He served two intense tours as a Green Beret officer in Vietnam, as well as serving several tours of duty in Germany. Sid Shachnow was born Schaja Shachnowski in Kausas, Lithuania in the mid-1930s. He was the elder of two sons born to a middle-class Jewish couple. His life was materially altered by the events of World War II in Europe and the Nazi Holocaust.

One of the first things the invading Nazis did to Sid’s family was to kill Sid’s Aunt Tili and Uncle Abraham. They were “burned alive in their home.” Because Schaja and his family were Jewish, the Nazis interned them in the concentration camp at Kovno in Lithuania when Schaja was only 7 years old.

His younger brother was smuggled out of the camp shortly before Schaja escaped. Schaja explained, “I escaped at age ten, with nothing but rags on my back; I was able finally to flee that hellhole. Most of those I left behind died.” He had escaped just days before the Nazis came in and killed every child in the Kovno Camp.

Historical records indicate that of the 40,000 Jews interred at the Kovno Camp, a mere 2,000 survived (Shachnow, 2004, p. 30). Young ten-year-old Sid, who was all alone after his escape, “hid for many months from both the Nazis and the Lithuanian partisans.” His mother also escaped the Kovno Concentration Camp, just as World War II was ending.

Sid still needed to escape from the Russians, who were in control of his native Lithuania after the war. According to Sid, the Soviet occupation of Lithuania was not much better than the Nazi occupation: “It was unbearable.” He learned from his mother that “the NKVD [later known as the KGB] was as ruthless as the [German] Gestapo.” To escape from Lithuania, Sid, his mother, and his younger brother made an arduous journey, lasting six months, partially on foot, carefully avoiding Russian troops. Sid’s father remained temporarily in Lithuania and rejoined the family later in West Germany.

In war-torn West Germany the Shachnowski family struggled to exist and to make a living. There were few jobs available, but Sid’s mother “did speak German and this helped.” To survive, Sid and his mother were involved with the “black market,” selling contraband items to U.S. troops. Sid said, “I started working in the black market . . . picking up merchandise [on a bike].” His employer, Mr. Schmidt, “said if I got caught it was my problem and not his.” After a few delays, Sid and his family immigrated again to the United States. In America Sid, his parents, and younger brother all lived together, and they found “hope and opportunity.”

Sid indicated that he had always been industrious, and he worked his way through high school, where he meet Arlene, fell in love, and wanted to get married. Because Arlene was not Jewish, Sid’s “parents became exceedingly upset, yelling and screaming and rending their clothes.” They refused to allow the marriage. Sid dropped out of high school when he was a senior to join the U.S. Army. He came back from Army basic training and married Arlene. She always encouraged him.

Sid said to me my wife said to me, “you know, I think you should do something about becoming an officer.” It’s easier said than done. Because in those days, I didn’t have a college education, I was a young enlisted man without any real leadership experience, or whatever. But it’s the thing that sort of opened my eyes to, you know, If I want to be more successful in a field that I seem to be enjoying, I need to assume some leadership position. I need to be in charge at night, because that’s where things are happening.

With encouragement from several senior officers, who became mentors, Sid went on to Officer’s Candidate School and earned his commission. As a young U.S. Army officer he volunteered for two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army Special Forces [Green Berets]. In Vietnam, Sid earned two Silver Stars and three Bronze Stars with a “V’ for Valor, and other awards. Sid primarily served with the Special Forces, in Vietnam, the Middle East, and at the Berlin Wall. He “served in the U.S. Army for forty years.” He indicated he “spent thirty-two of those years in Special Forces.”

While in the U.S. Army, Sid served multiple tours of duty in Germany, including “ironically helping to protect the Germans from the Russian Communists.” He was the Brigade Commander in Berlin, Germany in charge of U.S. Army units at the Berlin Gate at the end of the “Cold War.” Sid worked closely with the West German military while serving his tours in Germany. He reported that his headquarters had been the headquarters of Hermann Goring, the number-two man in Nazi Germany, “not a shabby place by any standard.”

In response to a question posed by Simon Wiesenthal (Wiesenthal, 1998), about forgiving Nazi soldiers, Shachnow replied, “I served a considerable part of my military career in Germany protecting [the Germans] . . . I was prepared to give up my most precious possession, my life, in that effort” (p. 243). I interviewed Shachnow near Fort Bragg, NC at his home for nearly two hours. His griping and inspiring biography, Hope and Honor (2004), is a great read.

Copyright 2006, 2009 © Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.