As Congress considers various proposals for overhauling our health care system, it would be well for us to recall the words of former Texas Senator Phil Gramm, who once said, “This is the only country where poor people are fat.”
Ex-senator Gramm, who was known as the bankers’ friend for the many kindnesses he bestowed on the finance industry, brought a brand of “compassionate conservatism” to his politics long before George W. Bush was a gleam in the eye of the Republican Party leaders. Gramm never used the phrase, that we know of, and we don’t hear much about it anymore, but compassionate conservatism is at the heart of the debate over health care reform. What it describes, basically, is a political philosophy that might be summed up thus: We’ve got ours and screw you, Jack.
Congress itself has health care coverage that is better than just about any plan currently available to the public. President Obama has said everybody should have the same coverage as he and all the employees of the federal government, including senators and congressmen, now have. That would be fair, he said.
But “fair” is one of those wishy-washy and fiscally irresponsible notions that liberals are always using to confound their opponents in debate. Phil Gramm had it right: If poor people would take better care of themselves and not go around eating Big Macs with fries and swilling down Pepsi they would be a lot healthier and wouldn’t need health care insurance. Most of the time, when poor people get sick it’s their own fault. If they can’t be bothered to take care of themselves, why should we?
This is a powerful argument and one can only wish that Phil Gramm were still in the Senate to make it. But Phil had to follow his destiny. It wasn’t enough to lead the deregulation charge that made it easier for banks to wheel and deal, Phil secretly yearned to be a banker. And now he is, right there in Washington, D.C., where the best deals have the biggest wheels.
But even without the stalwart leadership of Phil Gramm, Congress seems more than up to the challenge of thwarting the new president’s attempt to foul up a perfectly good national health care system. Since losing so many seats in both houses, the Republicans faced the possibility of being flattened by a unified Democratic Congress. Fortunately, the Democrats are never unified and the party’s dubious leadership in Congress and the Senate seems to be faltering.
Obama, who may be too committed to the idea of bi-partisanship for his own good, has given so much ground to pressure groups from everywhere that the bill, now a thousand pages-long, is all but incomprehensible, much less effective. It is so complicated the Democrats conducted an hours-long seminar in the House basement to make sure its Members understood what the hell the bill provides.
This was a good sign for opponents of the bill. Nothing stops progress like confusion. Meanwhile, help arrived, like the cavalry, with the Blue Dog Democrats of the House. This right-thinking group of fiscally responsible, if sometimes misguided, Democratic Congresspersons has done its obstructionist best to ruin Obama’s reckless plans. With skillful wielding of the monkey wrench and generous deployment of flies to ointment, this estimable band of brothers and sisters is doing its best to discredit the Obama Administration.
With any luck they will so befoul the health care plan that Obama will not recover and his presidency, which some fools believe to have great potential, will be fatally weakened. This would be a kind of justice for a country where the poor people are fat and the head of state is skinny.