Between the Lines Q&A

A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Aug. 14, 2009

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Some Single Payer Advocates
Want Obama Health Care Plan to Fail

 RealAudio  MP3

Interview with Russell Mokhiber,
founder of Single Payer Action,
conducted by Scott Harris


As President Obama admitted to failing at his stated goal of having the House and Senate pass health care reform legislation before the congressional August recess, Republicans, the health insurance industry and other opponents of reform stepped up their efforts to derail proposed legislation. Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works, groups that planned the April 15th anti-Obama "Tea Parties" around the U.S., are now spearheading what many label as the "Astroturf" organizing of health care reform opponents to disrupt congressional Town Hall meetings sponsored by legislators in their home districts during the August break.

While the Senate has not hammered out a final health care reform bill, conservative Blue Dog Democrats in the House succeeded in weakening bills that have made it out of committee. They worked hard to cut back subsidies, consumer protections and erode the core elements of a government-run public option designed to compete against private insurance companies. The health and insurance industries are spending more than $1.4 million a day to scuttle strong reform legislation and Republicans and conservative Democrats who are doing their bidding are the beneficiaries, receiving large campaign contributions as a reward.

Advocates of a single-payer health insurance plan, the model used in most industrialized nations of the world, have been disappointed that their favored solution to America's failed health care system has not been seriously debated and are unhappy with the bills coming out of Congress. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter and founder of the group Single Payer Action. He explains why some of those who favor single-payer have decided that no reform legislation at all would be better than President Obama's weakened, hybrid health plan -- preferring to start the legislative process again from scratch.

RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, there are a group of 85 members of the House who support single-payer bill HR 676. They are all Democrats and unfortunately it's not a real serious effort. And it's not a real serious effort because, unlike the Blue Dogs -- and this is why the Blue Dogs get all the attention -- because the Blue Dogs, even they are a much smaller group they say, unless you meet our demands, we're not going to vote for the Obama plan. And the single-payer advocates have never said that. The single-payer advocates say, "We prefer single-payer, but it's not going to happen, therefore, we're going to go for a public plan." And the unspoken final clause is: "Which is going to fail, and eventually we're going to get single-payer."

And so Obamacare is going to fail because Obamacare is a minor public plan that will add costs, as it's doing in Massachusetts, it's a very similar plan requiring everybody to buy health insurance from the private and for-profit insurance companies. So it's a bailout for the health insurance companies; it does nothing to control costs because it keeps the health insurance companies in the game, therefore it keeps that layer of $400 billion in administrative costs there and the costs continue to escalate.

So Obamacare is not going to happen. Now I do not trust the Democrats and what they're doing in the Congress: they favor single-payer but it's not going to happen, therefore we have to have a public plan. The miscalculations that the Democrats make in taking this tack of public plan instead of single-payer. They thought that they could buy off the health insurance industry this is the deal they cut with the devil. They went to Karen Ignani who heads the American Health Insurance Plans, which is the health insurance industry, and they said to her, "Karen, we can't afford you coming after us the way you went after the Clinton plan 20 years ago or so, so we want you on board. And she says, "I will come on board if you do not do single-payer."

And they said, "OK, we won't do single-payer, we'll do a modified public plan, a very small, weak public plan that won't challenge your authority. And, so, that's the deal that they cut with them, and they thought that this would calm the waters and get passage. What they didn't calculate was that there's a rabid right-wing constituency that's going to attack anything the Democrats do, including a public plan. And so the right-wing is going after the public plan with sort of a wink from the health insurance industry.

I think the best that can happen this year is that Obamacare fails and then we start from scratch. As the president says, "I'd prefer single-payer if we were starting from scratch." Well, our view is let's start from scratch.

And let's remember, also Scott, that President Obama in 2003, when he was a state senator in Illinois, said that he favors single-payer. And that the only way we're going to get it is we have to take back the White House and the Congress. Well, we've taken back the White House and the Congress, well at least he has, and the Democrats have, and now they've backed off from single-payer.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Russell, we seem to have a long-running syndrome in this country, where working people in particular are convinced by mega-million dollar TV ad campaigns and direct mail and all the rest of the things put out there to convince people to vote against their own economic self-interest. And it's true, of course, in this debate that a lot of people are being frightened into believing that anything that the government runs will take away their choice of physicians, that a single-payer health care plan would not work and that somehow it's failed in Canada and Western Europe, when the evidence certainly is to the contrary. How do grassroots organizations like yours overcome this well-financed propaganda campaign which has certainly frightened the Democrats into not being upfront that single-payer is the most economically viable option?

RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, the way we do it is through direct confrontation. A lot of groups they do email campaigns, writing letters and phone calls. We don't do that. Single-payer Action activists from around the country are confronting this August, the Democratic leadership, their members of Congress, their Republican members of Congress and saying it's too late now, 60 Americans are dying every day. We can't afford a thousand-page bill that nobody understands that creates a Rube-Goldberg device. That's going to fail, that's going to bankrupt the country, that's not going to cover everyone. We want a simple answer that works.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Somebody asked the question recently on a cable TV news show, where are all the activists who should be out there pushing for single-payer given that the right-wing is now mobilizing to disrupt these congressional town hall meetings. The idea being that if there really was public support for single-payer like some of the polls tell us, there should be tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people in the streets demanding it, and making President Obama and the Democratic Congress do it. And in the absence of that, some people say maybe there isn't the groundswell of support for it.

RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, I believe in the step-by-step theory of democracy, that you have to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run. And so, we're starting to do it. So, it's not true that it's not being done. It is being done. There's not tens of thousands of people. But it is an uphill struggle. It's not an easy task. There are a lot of people who have bought into the Democratic party who don't want to fight the Democrats on this, when we're focusing on the Democrats because they are the ones who are the problem. There are a lot of single-payer supporters who say, "Yes, we can't do it, but we have to; we believe in single-payer, but we have to support the Democratic party and we have to support Obama."

Our view is that we can't take that position because it's our job to ensure that we bring that number of 60 dead a day down to zero. And the only way you do that is passing single-payer and again, we believe that single-payer is going to happen sooner rather than later. We want to make it happen sooner. So it's our job to bring people into the movement. We're actually getting a very good response from young people and people of all ages who want to do this. I'm not a pessimist on this.

I think that for this year, perhaps once they defeat whatever Obama has planned, which is not going to work, and to start from scratch. And I still have hope that President Obama will take the lead here when this fails, if it fails, and come around to his 2003 position, which is: "Single-payer is the only way to go; all we have to do is take back the White House and Congress and get it done." So he's done that, let's get it done, let's push through single-payer.

Visit the Single Payer Action's website at

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Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines which can be heard on more than 45 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Aug. 14, 2009. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Anna Manzo and Scott Harris.

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