Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Why of Wyden

Ron Wyden, the allegedly progressive Joe Sixpack senator from Oregon, has yet to explain why he has seemingly gone off the deep end to give deep cover to Paul Ryan and his plan to privatize Medicare. Since we have not yet heard a reasonable explanation from Wyden, let me just throw out a few theories.

1. Wyden is a renegade in need of an attention fix.

2. He is being Obama, so Obama doesn't have to be. Max Baucus already got his shot at being the Obama henchman on health care in the Senate. Wyden is simply the latest reincarnation of the failed Catfood Commission, the latest convert to the Cult of Centrism. Wyden is being a Useful Idiot. He's not up for re-election until 2016. He recently married into East Coast money, and doesn't even spend a lot of time in Oregon any more.  

3. Wyden is just another bought politician.  His second largest contributor, after Nike, is FoxKiser, a Washington lobbying firm doing work for the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries.  Blue Cross/Blue Shield has also contributed to his campaign coffers. Wyden may be needing those Nikes to run away from his fellow Democrats, reportedly furious that he has robbed them of a campaign talking point.  Mind you, they are not furious because of the harm he may cause to older people who would be forced to choose between health care and food under his plan. He is just making them look bad in front of their constituents.

4. This is the latest act of Congressional Kabuki Theater, in which the two factions of the Uniparty pretend to battle it out while really working toward the same goal.  We saw it today with the payroll tax stopgap bandaid, in which every working family gets about a hundred whole bucks for groceries, repairs, heat, dinner out, Christmas, rent and college while the wretches pat themselves on the back and go on vacation for a month. Congress and the president dance their political tango, juxtaposing fiery machismo with abject submission, and proclaim it a work of art. We, the mere audience, are exhausted just watching their gyrations. They're counting on us to be grateful when the suspenseful torture ends.

 5. None of them actually gives a shit any more. Their approval level is down to seven percent and will probably be at two by the time they come back next year.  They are no longer even trying to pretend they work for the people who elected them.

Don't Blame Me, Folks -- I'm Only Following Orders


James Singer said...

I vote for number 1. Wyden is, was, always will be a political gadfly. To get elected in Oregon one must appear reasonably progressive... or at least not nutso. And while he's not up for reelection (and, given his age, probably never will be) he craves attention to show Knight he's earning his keep.

Denis Neville said...

Another way to privatize Medicare – the Wyden-Ryan Plan – the movement to transform Medicare into a “premium support” program with the goal of moving more seniors and the disabled into the private insurance market.

Under the Wyden-Ryan Medicare and health-care reform plan, current beneficiaries and those near retirement would remain in Medicare as it is now. However, Medicare would be re-engineered for those 54 and younger. Upon reaching 65, future retirees would have a choice between traditional Medicare and regulated private insurance plans, all competing to lower costs and provide quality care. Seniors would get a fixed amount to spend on a health plan, no matter which coverage they selected. Low-income, and older, sicker people would get more money.

Again from Naomi Freundlich’s blog,

“In the twisted logic of Congress, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who supports repeal of the Affordable Care Act, is now advocating transforming Medicare into a premium support plan that would look a lot like the health insurance exchanges at the heart of the ACA. Like the state-based exchanges, the new Medicare proposal, co-sponsored with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), would give seniors a voucher to purchase their choice of private health plan…”

“It’s not clear why Ron Wyden, long-time advocate for seniors and co-sponsor of the Healthy Americans Act, a health reform bill that included an individual mandate, would agree to sign on to this new plan with Ryan. Maybe Wyden is actually is trying to rise above partisan politics and sees the competition between private plans and a public program to be an important driver of cost savings.”

But as Krugman wrote, “What Wyden did was to give cover to the fundamental fallacy of right-wing attempts to dismantle Medicare: the claim that market competition is the key to reducing health care costs. We have overwhelming evidence on this — and it just isn’t true.”

Ron Wyden, useful idiot!

“The White House is attacking the Ryan-Wyden Medicare plan (quite rightfully) as ‘undermining’ Medicare (because it does)... So is this the White House in campaign mode, or are they really drawing a line the president won't cross?”

LOL! As if there weren’t any lines that O wouldn't cross.

Anne Lavoie said...

I vote for all but #1.

With 31 years in Congress, he doesn't strike me as someone who suddenly needs an attention fix. This is, in the words of Joe Biden, a big f***ing deal. Wyden wouldn't be advancing this proposal without Obama's knowledge and approval.

That's just how the game of politics is played. It's also played by letting 'safe' politicians do the dirty work. Wyden is as safe as it gets right now, being in his 1st year of his latest 6 year term.

Remember when the media's interest was piqued after inadvertently overhearing Bill Clinton telling Paul Ryan to give him a call? I'm sure that had NOTHING to do with this. Someone should check Wyden's phone calls with Clinton.

As Denis said, will the betrayals never end? I feel weary like I did during those seemingly endless 8 Bush years, waiting for them to end, only to discover we're going into Bush year 12.

We all need a fix, but it's not the attention type.

Valerie said...

@Kat - Not sure if you have seen this but it is not to be missed if one is NOT a fan of a certain warmonging, snide, atheist.

Denis Neville said...

The Obama administration is not going define a single uniform set of essential health benefits that must be provided by insurers under the ACA. Instead it will let each of the fifty states tailor health care benefits, thus allowing significant variations from state to state.

Scarecrow @ FDL asks, “Are we going to leave these decisions to the horror governors of Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio? To states with dismal records on withholding essential health care in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid?”

“A principled, courageous President would be anxious to end the tolerance for such inhumane neglect.”

But not O!

“What Mr. Obama’s HHS has done in the hope of beating Mitt Romney is to facilitate the market’s ability to be less competitive and thus to raise prices.”

“The White House political geniuses who have managed to position their guy as only barely beating or even with the most embarrassing and offensive array of GOP clowns in memory apparently think moving towards Mitt’s incoherent position will leave one less reason to vote against Mr. Obama; others might conclude it’s one less reason to vote for him.”

Put me in the latter category.

Atrios remains “cautiously optimistic that the ACA will offer a modest improvement in our fucked up health care system, but any attempt to explain how it's actually going to ‘work’ makes clear that it's a Rube Goldberg machine fashioned out of Rube Goldberg machines.”

Scarecrow again, “Medicare, unlike the pretended ‘competitive’ private insurance market, actually does lower health care costs. Unfortunately, we keep getting ‘useful idiots’ like Oregon’s Sen. Ron Wyden who can’t remember this.”

Karen is right. None of them actually gives a shit any more. They are no longer even trying to pretend they work for the people who elected them.

Kat said...

Yes, I was gratified to read that today as well as Greenwald's piece.
This passage sums it up perfectly:
There’s one other aspect to the adulation of Hitchens that’s quite revealing. There seems to be this sense that his excellent facility with prose excuses his sins. Part of that is the by-product of "America’s refusal to come to terms with just how heinous and destructive was the attack on Iraq. That act of aggression is still viewed as a mere run-of-the-mill “mistake” — hey, we all make them, so we shouldn’t hold it against Hitch – rather than what it is: the generation’s worst political crime"

svnty3stingray said...

Your comments on Ron Paul in the Krugman article were weak. A doctor who does not agree with state mandated healthcare programs, abortion law at a federal level or state sponsored welfare retirements. 638 people liked your comment. Howa re your percentages?

Denis Neville said...

Pinning your hopes on an adept, opportunistic, Janus-faced, catnip dispensing, political con artist?

More on essential ACA benefits decision being left to the private insurers by O’s HHS

O’Newspeak: “This benefits us by providing greater choice for consumers and by providing insurers with the opportunity to innovate.”

Don McCanne MD posts at Physicians for a National Health Program's blog:

“Why they should deem that to be beneficial is astonishing when considering that insurer innovation means having to choose between various plans that take away, to varying degrees, choices of providers, benefits, and amount of financial security.”

“The new standard for health insurance to be offered under the Affordable Care Act will be the cheapest of the three largest small group plans offered in any given state. There will be no national standard. Although they would allow states more generous options other than the skimpy small group plans, with today’s concerns over high health care costs, the cheapest option certainly will be selected by the state stewards.”

“Can you think of anything worse than having cash-starved states selecting the cheapest private plans with the most spartan selection of benefits allowable – benefits selected by the private insurance industry - and offering those plans to struggling middle-income Americans who will be mandated to purchase these plans when many of them will not be able to afford even the bottom bronze plans in spite of the subsidies? “

“And don’t even think about how they’re going to pay the high out-of-pocket expenses when they actually need health care.”

James F Traynor said...

Hitchens was an intellectual popinjay, but he was exceedingly good at it. He knew just how to perform, how to tittillate the elite without seriously offending them. He knew when to bend the knee. But I will miss him. He was a gifted man and very entertaining.

As to his position on Iraq, I think it was the result of his anger at the Rushdie affair. Rushdie was a friend and a fellow writer, a Muslim intellectual who performed in the same circle with Hitchens. This does not excuse his position, but it does explain it.

As to his being godless. Well he was no less godless than myself, except I am, as are most others of similar thought, more polite about it.

Anne Lavoie said...

Karen Alert - Dowd 12/18

Valerie said...


We are all entitled to our beliefs or non-beliefs. And had Hitch differentiated between fanatical fundamentalism and progressive peoples of faith, I might not have been so turned off by him. But
Hitch wasn't impolite about other people's religious beliefs, he was ridiculing and dismissive and he threw us all into the "stupid" category. He despised people who had beliefs. And sorry, no free rides for sexist remarks and being a cheerleader for a TOTALLY senseless war.

No doubt Christopher Hitches was a brilliant man, but his arrogance and mean-spiritedness did not make him very impressive to many of us on the Left who are seeking a more tolerant world.

And for the record, you are nothing like him.

@Anne - Thanks for the KG Alert

@All - Considering how states like Texas and Mississippi have handled education, I certainly wouldn't trust them to handle the medical needs of their elderly.

I'm with @Zee - vote them all out in the next election. Send Congress and the DNC a message. Politicians who work against the interest of their constiuency haven't earned the right to stay in Congress.

Anonymous said...

I like that phrase 'unity party' disgusting as it is.

Denis Neville said...

As Though the 99 Percent Never Existed - the Rise And Fall Of Empires

Tim De Chant @ Per Square Mile shares numbers that “paint a picture of two Romes, one of respectable, if not fabulous, wealth and the other of meager wages, enough to survive day-to-day but not enough to prosper. The wealthy were also largely concentrated in the cities. It’s not unlike the U.S. today. Indeed, based on a widely used measure of income inequality, the Gini coefficient, imperial Rome was slightly more equal than the U.S.”

“Since too much inequality can foment revolt and instability, the CIA regularly updates statistics on income distribution* for countries around the world, including the U.S.”

*[GINI index measures the degree of inequality in the distribution of family income in a country]

“Between 1997 and 2007, inequality in the U.S. grew by almost 10 percent, making it more unequal than Russia, infamous for its powerful oligarchs. The U.S. is not faring well historically, either. Even the Roman Empire, a society built on conquest and slave labor, had a more equitable income distribution.”

“What we see as the glory of Rome is really just the rubble of the rich, built on the backs of poor farmers and laborers, traces of whom have all but vanished. It’s as though Rome’s 99 percent never existed. Which makes me wonder, what will future civilizations think of us?

A nation of idiots and their useful idiots.

DreamsAmelia said...

Cruel punishment is no longer unusual, therefore neither lawmakers nor citizens blink under this raft of affronts to life, liberty and happiness. It's only unconstitutional if it is _both_ cruel AND unusual...

In the latest twist of "pay, pay, pay, but no play" Riverside, CA is now charging its inmates $147 A NIGHT to stay in jail. The average sentence is 2 years--Which means you would come out of jail owing $107,000, while the state puts liens on your property and garnishes wages. I wonder if they'll charge interest on that? At $7/hr, if the inmate worked 7 days a week and 100% of their wages went to pay off this debt, it would take 5.25 years to pay off.

Thank, Ted Rall, for alerting me to this with his excellent cartoon....

Denis Neville said...


Cruel punishment is no longer unusual…

And neither lawmakers nor citizens blink under this raft of affronts to life, liberty and happiness…

Because it’s their own damn fault!

“We need to punish poor decisions instead of rewarding them.”

“Never reward poor choices unless you want more of them. That’s so simple, it’s stupid.”

“Being poor is largely a choice, a daily, if not hourly decision and we need to punish poor decisions instead of rewarding them. We cannot continue to offer a safety blanket to those Americans who make poor choices. The fewer social welfare programs, the better.”

So says right-wing nutball Ted Nugent in his latest rant:

Merry Christmas from someone whose net worth is in excess of $20 million.

Valerie said...


Unbelievable! I guess we can expect to have more and more private prisons built if the profit margin is going to be so high. Get paid by the state and then charge the prisoner! Win, win, win for the private prison system. The rest of the world is just shaking its head in wonder.

I have to laugh. Wayne Swan our Treasury Minister - the one who got on TV and advised Australians to move their money and their business to non-profit credit unions when the banks wouldn't negotiate on lowering interest rates and fees for Australians - just compared the nut-job Right wing opposition (the Liberal Party leader, Tony Abbott) to the Tea Party. Politics in the U.S. has come to exemplify to the world what NOT to become.

Brilliant quote, Denis,
“What we see as the glory of Rome is really just the rubble of the rich, built on the backs of poor farmers and labourers, traces of whom have all but vanished. It’s as though Rome’s 99 percent never existed. Which makes me wonder, what will future civilizations think of us?

It really makes one stop, think and wonder.

@James Traylor - Just to clarify. When I said you were nothing like Hitch - I meant that you weren't nasty or intolerant. It was meant as a compliment.

Denis Neville said...

Cruel punishment is no longer unusual, but necessary.

Dean Baker goes ballistic at Washington Post’s (a.k.a "Fox on 15th Street) Robert Samuelson

“Samuelson says that we have no choice but to make these people suffer because if we don't then something really bad will happen. It is difficult not to ask whether Samuelson's assessment of this risk of the bad unknown may be somewhat different if it was his family that was facing unemployment and eviction.”

Jay - Ottawa said...

Great (News) Day In the Morning!

The NY Times has finally begun to cover our longed-for Third Party!

Hang in there, Rocky! Your Justice Party is going to get a fair shake, after all, from America’s very own journal of record.


(So long have I waited, searching Times pages in prayer day after day. Now you may take me, Lord.)

Oh wait ….

The Times is getting mixed up about party numbers. Looks like they’re going to provide coverage about some Fourth Party without ever getting to THE Third Party. Richard W. Stevenson -- whom the esteemed Arthur Brisbane describes as “the political editor who has overseen election coverage for the New York Times since 2006” -- just wrote an article about (what he counts as) a third party that’s called “Americans Elect.”

“Americans Elect” (AE) has no platform or candidates. Sounds as dismissable as dismissable gets, but, hey, nothing gets overlooked by the Times. AE is by intention a kind of empty something party line that will be set up in all 50 states so that we poor, unregistered moderates and independents, who by definition cannot vote in the primaries of Party One or Party Two, can have our say in the nominating primary process. To quote Stevenson directly, AE is “not a third party, but a nominating process.” As his tricky headline puts it: “Group Clears Path for a Third Party Ticket.”

Ah yes, a third way: the Good Path.

What’s this? I came to read about the third party, and the Times is giving me a spiel about a shadowy "group" in the wings pushing “a process” into the limelight of our newspaper of record?

The hollow Americans Elect Party is being held open for a “centrist ticket.” Some of the backers just happen to be wealthy investors and curiosities left over from parties One and Two. Important business will be conducted openly on line in June. The founders will, nevertheless, have a hand in the final screening of candidates to insure AE ends up with “candidates of real stature.”

Leonard Cohen called it first: “Democracy’s comin’ to the USA.”

(Could you please hold off on my nunc dimittis, Lord?)

And, Rocky Anderson, I’m so sorry. The MSM will not be shutting you out. But it will be crowding you out.

Suzan said...

And they don't need to as almost each and every one of them has been bought and sold by the pharma, insurance, or MIC interests.

But we WILL get even with them.

Perhaps even in their cushy retirement villas.

Thanks, Karen, you're the man! (KIdding about the gender - not the in-joke!)


They are no longer even trying to pretend they work for the people who elected them.

Denis Neville said...

“The Cowardly Senator Wyden” – Dean Baker

Kat said...

I go with #5 too.
Thanks for this column. Through the links and on to others, I was led to Kenneth Arrow's 1963 piece and Krugman's "Vouchers for Veterans" column.
I would urge everyone to give a look to the Arrow piece. It is long and there are some (incomprehensible to me) equations at the end that really up the wonk factor but there is a lot of really prescient stuff here.
The thing that caught my eye and caused me to read on was the acknowledgement by Arrow that spending on health care tends to crowd out other spending that is probably more important for those at the bottom of our economic totem poll. Yes, poor people need access to health care. Even more however, poor people need adequate housing, safe streets, good schools, and reliable transportation. And, please do not think I am saying that we must make a choice between good health and those other things. To believe that it is a choice is to accept a rather diminished view of public health. It is also buying into the idea that much of what we do in our health care system is and unqualified good. Actually, much of what we do benefits health care providers (hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, pharmaceutical companies, medical device and equipment makers, physicians among others) more than health care consumers. Yes, we have many treatment guidelines that are formulated by physicians with ties to industry that benefit from turning well people into patients. It is not things such as routine PSA testing or mammography that is questionable. It is also things like treating mildly elevated blood pressure and blood sugar. Every drug has side effects, and the numbers needed to treat patients to see any benefit are not worth those that risk adverse side effects. Of course, we may also add in the ridiculous amount that we spend on end of life care that does nothing to enhance quality of life or actually even extend it that much. One important reason that Britiain's National Health Service is able to achieve better health outcomes with less money is that it simply does less. Obama touts Comparative Effectiveness Research to rationalize care. This could be useful, but unfortunately much of our research is run by Contract Research Organizations.
And there is this: inequality itself is particularly harmful to health. For those at the lower economic rungs of our society, inequality often translates into less autonomy on the job(if you have one!)and in life. This is stressful and stress, whether mental or physical, is hard on the body. Instead of "Let's Move!" campaigns, it would be nice if Michelle's husband would use his bully pulpit to shame congress into letting the Bush tax cuts expire and to create a more progressive taxation scheme. Oh yeah, let's do something about that defense budget too. Of course, I see little hope for this. See Karen's explanation theory #5.

Kat said...

@Dennis: I read the Baker piece. I don't think that his solutions are the best. In this case, Krugman had the better critique.