Monday, July 27, 2009

Still Questioning the Blue Dog Reform Opposition: It Isn't the Spending


Consider the Democrats in the Blue Dog caucus, who constantly trumpet their fiscal conservatism and enjoy hearing that claim echoed in the media, especially now, when they are threatening to block health care reform. The Blue Dogs don't like the public option for national health insurance; they bemoan the estimated trillion-dollar cost of covering everyone; and they zealously defend the prerogatives of the private insurance industry and the pharmaceutical manufacturers (who coincidentally give them millions of dollars in contributions). When it comes to spending money on the health of uninsured or underinsured constituents, the Blue Dogs worry about every penny.

But when the budget debate turns to military spending, the voices of the Blue Dogs suddenly turn sweetly indulgent. Confronted with the gross waste of taxpayer dollars on Pentagon boondoggles, including weapons programs that are outdated or simply don't work, these fierce budget watchdogs lose their bark and bite. They never lose their appetite for useless contracting that brings money to their own districts, however.

The F-22 fighter plane, touted as the most advanced military aircraft in the world, offers a fine example of this syndrome. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is trying to cut the F-22 program because the planes don't function very well, aren't needed in the foreseeable future and cost nearly $400 million each. In a speech he delivered on July 17 about the need to reform the defense budget, the exasperated defense chief said: "Every defense dollar diverted to fund excess or unneeded capacity -- whether for more F-22s or anything else -- is a dollar that will be unavailable to take care of our people, to win the wars we are in, to deter potential adversaries and to improve capabilities in areas where America is underinvested and potentially vulnerable."

His pleas for fiscal sanity have been consistently ignored by Blue Dog Democrats as well as Republicans, who have joined forces to save the F-22.
As a progressive, it's easy to dislike the average Blue Dog from an ideological perspective. But observing the rhetoric of the caucus in the House health care debate, frustration this go-round stems more from the blatant hypocrisy of their selective "fiscal conservatism." Were they consistent in their opposition to spending, that would be a debate over ideas. But they aren't consistent. Anything but.

Connecting the dots, the Blue Dog meme has shown clearly that it isn't an opposition to spending that drives their health care reform "hesitation," as they can get behind wasteful military spending without too much trouble. The Blue Dogs simply oppose this specific version of reform, using "fiscal responsibility" as an excuse as convenient as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. The lack of foresight, representation of their districts, and recognition of the benefits to rural America should this reform bill pass is unbelievable. I've been criticized much for implying that Jim Matheson's motive is more about his campaign donors than any consistent allegiance to fiscal ramifications of a public option, but even if I'm off on that assumption, it's unrealistic to assume spending is his only cause for opposition. Matheson and most others in the caucus do not, de facto, oppose spending, even when it's wasteful. They oppose this spending, for this bill.

It's fair then to infer that Matheson has a reason to prefer lack of reform to reform that includes a public option, and it seems reasonable to also infer that his reasons then are politically motivated, not ideological.

Matheson has simply decided that supporting reform with a public option would be a bad political move for him. It has nothing to do with what will or will not work to better our health care system, and ensure that every Utahan has access to affordable health care.

It's important to acknowledge that. It's great to say we have a Democrat in our federal delegation. He's our only one. But that doesn't mean he's impervious to bad decisions, or short sighted motivations. We elected these representatives to do work for us, not protect their own political futures at our expense. Bishop and Chaffetz are obviously lost causes on this one (there's tea-baggn' to be done!), but we should hold Matheson to a higher standard.

Health care reform, and the (admittedly, assumed... but you've got to take your risks, right?) public approval once a public option is in place could benefit the Democratic Party in Utah just as easily as a another Matheson term would, possibly even more. And should the plan be a success, a run for Governor or Senate would be even further bolstered.

Republicans will use it, be assured. It would be their low hanging fruit. But odds are good the majority of voters (yes, even in Utah) are going to see their lives improve should this version of reform pass, and you need only remind them of that in 2010 and beyond.

Contact Jim Matheson: 1 (877) 677-9743. Hell, give Rob (202-225-0453) and Jason (202-225-7751) a call, just for fun even. Let them all know they have not shown justified reason to oppose the reform outside of blind and empty GOP rhetoric, and unwillingness to take a risk, and dishonest debate, even when we're discussing something as important as our health and our prosperity.

1 comment:

  1. It should be enough incentive for Matheson to change tact on this issue that he finds himself on the same side as these people: "Dick Morris, Health Care 'Expert'?". As an independent, life-long, I could get behind anyone who supports a long overdue overhaul like the one suggested and it is disappointing to see such a lack of desire for real change from our representatives especially Congressman Matheson. He's selling out the unions he barely dares acknowledge he supports. That's not leadership.