Major newspaper, broadcast and cable stories mentioning healthcare reform in the week leading up to President Obama’s March 5 healthcare summit rarely mentioned the idea of a single-payer national health insurance program, according to a new study by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR.org). And advocates of such a system—two of whom participated in the White House summit—were almost entirely shut out, FAIR found.

Single-payer—a model in which healthcare delivery would remain largely private, but would be paid for by a single federal health insurance fund (much like Medicare provides for seniors, and comparable to Canada’s current system)—polls well with the public, who preferred it two-to-one over a privatized system in a recent survey (New York Times/CBS, 1/11-15). But a media consumer in the week leading up to the summit was more likely to read about single-payer from the hostile perspective of conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer than see an op-ed by a single-payer advocate in a major US newspaper.

Hundreds of stories in major newspapers and on NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR and PBS’s NewsHour mentioned healthcare reform, according to a search of the Nexis database (2/25-3/4). Yet all but 18 of these stories made no mention of “single-payer” (or synonyms commonly used by its proponents, such as “Medicare for all,” or the proposed single-payer bill, HR 676 ), and only five included the views of advocates of single-payer—none of which appeared on television. HR 676, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has more than 60 co-sponsors and support from most AFL-CIO unions.

Of a total of 10 newspaper columns FAIR found that mentioned single-payer, Krauthammer’s column critical of the concept, published in the Washington Post (2/27) and reprinted in four other daily newspapers, accounted for five instances. Only three columns in the study period advocated for a single-payer system (San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/26; Boston Globe, 3/1; St. Petersburg Times, 3/3).

The FAIR study turned up only three mentions of single-payer on TV outlets surveyed, and two of those references were by TV guests who expressed strong disapproval of it: conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks (NewsHour, 2/27) and Republican congressman Darrell Issa (MSNBC’s Hardball, 2/26).

In many newspapers, the only argument in favor of the policy has been made in letters to the editor (Oregonian, 2/28; USA Today, 2/26; Washington Post, 3/4; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/27; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/26).

In contrast, the terminology of choice for detractors of any greater public-sector role in healthcare—such as “socialized medicine” and “government-run” healthcare—turned up seven times on TV, including once on ABC News’s This Week (3/1) and five times on CNN. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has herself adopted this terminology in discussing healthcare reform, stating (CNN Newsroom, 2/26) that “if in time, Americans start to think what President Obama is proposing is some kind of government-run health system—a la Canada, a la England—he will get resistance in the same way that Hillary Clinton got resistance when she tried to do tried to do this in the ’90s.” That despite polling that suggests the public would actually favor single-payer.

Saul Friedman, columnist for Newsday, noted (2/21) that only Congressional Quarterly covered a 1/28 news conference on a study done by a coalition of advocacy groups representing 15,000 doctors and more than 50,000 nurses that found Conyers’ bill could create 2.6 mln new jobs and would cost far less than the private insurance currently paid by individuals and employers. John Rother, chief lobbyist for AARP, told Friedman that he is in favor of a single-payer system, but he is not encouraging such proposals because they’re outside the mainstream and are not likely to pass. “This is simply a matter of pragmatism,” Rother said. “Single-payer advocates could play a destructive role in the coming debate.” But Elaine Fox, a physician and health-care activist from Long Island, argues, “There cannot be a credible debate when one side disappears.”

PROBLEMS WITH TRADE PACTS. President Obama has indicated he will work with Congress to approve long-stalled “free trade” agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner told the House Ways and Means Committee (3/3), according to Reuters. Obama opposed the South Korean and Colombian trade deals during last year’s campaign, but Geithner said the president would work with Congress “to find a way to move forward on those important agreements.”

The Citizens Trade Campaign has expressed strong opposition to the Panama “Free Trade Agreement,” which the Bush administration negotiated with minimal protections for American labor, health regulations and sovereignty. In a letter to members of Congress, the progressive trade group noted that more than 100 candidates from both parties ran on trade reform in 2008. “The past trade model has led to massive American job loss, downward pressure on wages, the loss of nearly 300,000 family farms and massive trade imbalances that have contributed to our current economic crisis. It has given broad, expansive new rights to foreign corporations to challenge our environmental and public health standards, and flooded the United States with unsafe imported food and products. And, it has devastated developing nations where millions of family farmers have been forced off their land and poverty, despair and desperation-driven mass migrations have grown.

“We support President Obama’s campaign commitments to create a new American trade agenda that serves the needs of all Americans, not only the special interests who have promoted the past, failed policy. Achieving this goal requires the development of a new model for American trade agreements. President Obama and numerous members of Congress have also committed to ending the perverse incentives for American companies to move jobs overseas, including closing various tax loopholes.”

The letter noted that Panama’s economy thrives on banking secrecy, which allows US companies to create subsidiaries there to evade US taxes. A US Government Accountability Office study identified Panama as one of eight countries—and the only current or prospective “free trade” partner—that was listed on all of the major tax-haven watchdog lists.

The Panama trade agreement, as well as other leftover Bush agreements with Colombia and Korea, “do not advance the public interest,” the letter notes. Instead the Citizens Trade Campaign promotes the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) as a blueprint for amending the Panama pact, and offer a more balanced way to expand trade.

“We are all eager to support trade agreements that benefit a majority of US workers, farmers, small businesses and consumers. We all want trade agreements that work to achieve the larger societal goals of economic justice, poverty alleviation, healthy communities, pollution reduction, human rights and a healthy environment. Unfortunately, the Panama FTA does not meet these goals, and we strongly urge you to oppose the text written by the past administration,” the letter concluded.

Signatories included International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Steelworkers, Friends of the Earth US, National Farmers Union, Communications Workers of America, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Public Citizen, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, TransAfrica Forum, IATPAction, UNITE HERE, Americans for Democratic Action, International Association of Machinists and the National Family Farm Coalition. See citizenstrade.org.

FOOD ADVOCATES WARM TO VILSACK. After initial concerns about the appointment of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack because of his support for the biotech industry when he was governor of Iowa, organic food advocates are praising Vilsack’s and the Obama administration’s early moves on food policy. Obama’s budget plan includes a $1 bln a year increase in funding for US child nutrition programs, including school lunches. Vilsack named Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, a Tufts University assistant professor with a background in sustainable and organic agriculture, as his deputy secretary. “I cannot think of a more qualified public policy expert to take on this important role at what Abraham Lincoln referred to as the ‘people’s department,’” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, which lobbied hard for Merrigan’s appointment. She was the director of the Center on Agriculture, Food and Environment at Tufts in Boston.

Vilsack also has called for government support for farmers using alternative energy; he has called for cuts in taxpayer subsidy payments to large farms and he has pledged the USDA’s support in ending racial discrimination in the farm sector. The USDA’s National Organic Program has cracked down on companies spiking organic fertilizer with prohibited synthetic additives and Obama has guaranteed at last $500 mln for green jobs in the stimulus package.

BATTLE JOINED OVER EMPLOYEE CHOICE. The Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize, was introduced in the House and Senate (3/10), setting up an epic battle between unions, which supports it, and the business lobby, which hates it. Among the provisions, the bill would trigger union representation when half the workers sign cards indicating their support, it would prevent coercion of workers by bosses and it would force employers into binding arbitration if they refuse to negotiate with the union. Workers would still have the opportunity to call for a secret-ballot election. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), manager of the bill, presided over the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing in the absence of Chairman Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Tim Fernholz noted at Prospect.org (3/10). The Center for Economic and Policy Research released a study showing that in 26% of union campaigns from 2001-07, pro-union workers were fired. Opponents of union rights, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, have said they will spend $200 mln on advertising and lobbying to block the measure. Among the Dems they are targeting are Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, both of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu (La.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), Bloomberg News reported. Dems have 58 votes in the Senate and expect another when Al Franken is declared winner of a disputed election in Minnesota, but they expect to need 60 to break a Republican filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Bloomberg he was confident they would have the votes to pass the bill.

Citigroup injected itself into the political debate as it lowered its rating on Wal-Mart from a “buy” to a “hold” even before the bill was introduced, because of the possibility that the “legislation intended to make it easier for employees to unionize would raise the retail giant’s labor costs and hurt its competitiveness.”

Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake.com commented, “It’s hard to view this as anything other than a reckless and overt political act on the part of a company, Citigroup, that has made stupendously bad business decisions with dire economic consequences necessitating billions in taxpayer bailouts, at a time when the market can ill-afford it. Even Bank of America admitted in an internal memo that increased wages for working people would mean ‘increased spending power of lower income consumers,’ which would mean that even if Wal-Mart was successfully unionized—a big if—they could make up the cost of higher wages with an increase in sales. Somehow that calculation didn’t enter into [Citigroup analyst Debora] Weinswig’s extraordinarily premature analysis.”

Ezra Klein commented, “[I]t’s hard to recall another time when an analyst actually downgraded a stock on fears of legislation that few expect to pass. Indeed, many on the Left are arguing that this is more about generating a controlled stock market panic that will convince wavering senators to vote against EFCA than about accurately pricing Wal-Mart’s stock.”

Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute told Klein, “When I see upgrades to the stocks of Wal-Mart’s already-unionized competitors (grocery stores like Safeway who will gain back market share if easier unionization results in higher Wal-Mart labor costs) specifically pegged to the specter of EFCA, then I’ll admit that Citi is engaged in good-faith prognosticating here. Otherwise, not so much.”

GOP REP: IT’S ALL ABOUT ’10. GOP Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a key player in helping craft the Republican message, has offered an unusually blunt description of the Republican strategy, Greg Sargent noted at theplumline.whoruns-gov.com (3/9). National Journal quoted McHenry: “We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010 ... Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Republicans have their work cut out for them as a recent Gallup Poll found that Red China was more popular than the Congressional Republicans. The nationwide poll (2/20-22) found that 56% disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are handling their job while 36% approve. An earlier Gallup Poll (2/9-12) found that 51% had an unfavorable view of China while 41% were favorable.

PUBLIC SUPPORTS BANK NATIONALIZATION. A Newsweek poll (3/6) finds that 72% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Obama, 58% approve of the job he’s doing and 65% are very or somewhat successful in turning the economy around. It also contained the “somewhat surprising” finding that 56% support nationalizing large banks in danger of failing, where the government takes temporary control.

SPECTER’S INCENTIVE TO LEAVE GOP. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) may be looking for an exit from the GOP as former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), head of the right-wing Club for Growth, plans to challenge Specter in the Republican primary in 2010, The Hill reported (3/7). Specter barely beat Toomey in 2004 and Terry Madonna, a professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., estimated that 150,000 to 200,000 centrist Republicans switched registration to the Democratic Party in 2008, leaving the remaining GOP electorate more conservative. Many Republicans are looking to punish Specter for supporting Barack Obama’s stimulus package last month. Specter could run as an independent or he could return to the Democratic Party, which he left in 1965 to run for district attorney in Philadelphia. Specter cannot run as an independent if he loses the Republican primary.

Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos wrote (3/10) that union leaders have promised to stand with Specter if he votes for the Employee Free Choice Act, which is considered a “life-and-death issue” for unions. That won’t help Specter in the GOP primary, but if he becomes a Democrat with the unions behind him and his longtime friendship with Gov. Ed Rendell (D), it’s hard to see an opening for a “real Democrat” in the primary. Moulitsas noted that Democrats might support Specter as an independent, “but it would be much messier.”

COSTS FORCE FAMILIES TO SKIMP ON HEALTH CARE. More than half of Americans (53%) say their family skimped on medical care because of cost in the past year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s first health care tracking poll of 2009 (released 2/25). The most common actions reported are relying on home remedies and over-the-counter drugs rather than visiting a doctor (35%) or skipping dental care (34%). Roughly one in four report putting off health care they needed (27%), one in five say they have not filled a prescription (21%) and one in six (15%) say they cut pills in half or skipped doses to make their prescription last longer.

The share of Americans who say that the country’s economic problems make it more important than ever to take on health care reform has remained remarkably stable over the past five months at roughly six in 10 (62%).  However, the partisan divide also remains large with 79% of Dems saying reform is more important than ever and 58% of Republicans saying the nation cannot afford to tackle health care reform at this point. Independents tilt the balance in favor of reform now (57%).

HEALTH REFORMERS MEET THEIR VILLAIN. A group called “Conservatives for Patients’ Rights” promises a $20 mln ad campaign to warn that Obama’s health reform effort will hurtle the country toward socialized medicine. Ezra Klein of Prospect.org noted (3/3) that its leader is Richard L. Scott, former president of Columbia/HCA, who built up the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain in the 1990s “and promised to squeeze blood from every one.” More than any other single company, Klein noted, HCA “was responsible for the cruelty that turned the public against managed care” as it pioneered ruthless cost-cutting. Scott was ousted in 1997 after a federal investigation uncovered widespread fraud that bilked the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars. The corporation later pleaded guilty to a variety of fraud charges and agreed to pay $1.7 bln in the largest fraud settlement in US history. “So, to recap: The first major health care group fielded in opposition to Obama’s initiative comes from a for-profit hospital executive who resigned amidst the largest fraud case in United States history and means to sell an anti-government message using the same PR firm that helped the Swift Boat veterans,” Klein wrote. “There’s an old saying: It is good to be lucky in your friends. But it is even better to be lucky in your enemies. Health reform, it would seem, is lucky in its enemies.”

GOP TURNABOUT ON JUDICIAL FILIBUSTERS. When President George. W. Bush was stocking the federal court with conservative ideologues, the New York Times noted (3/8), Senate Republicans threatened to change the rules and do away with the filibuster if Democrats tried to block his choices. Now that President Obama is preparing to fill vacancies on federal benches, Republicans have fired off a letter threatening to filibuster any of Obama’s nominees who are not to their liking. They insisted that Obama should renominate Bush nominees who were never confirmed to the Senate. They also are demanding veto rights over nominees form their states, in what is called the “blue slip” tradition, which holds that judicial nominees should not move forward without their home-state senators’ support. But Republicans abandoned that tradition when they controlled the Senate under Bush and confirmed judges over the objections of home-state senators.

“It is particularly strange to see Senate Republicans raising the specter of filibustering nominees,” Times editors wrote. “When Mr. Bush was doing the nominating, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah and a former Judiciary Committee chairman, warned Democrats that filibusters “mired the judicial-confirmation process in a political and constitutional crisis that undermines democracy, the judiciary, the Senate, and the Constitution.

“A filibuster can be an appropriate response when it is clear that a particular nominee would be a dangerous addition to the bench. The Republicans’ rush to threaten filibusters in the absence of actual nominees is not only at odds with their previous views on the subject, but shows a lack of respect for the confirmation process.

“The Republicans are trying to use intimidation to hold onto the one branch of government where they still hold sway. Mr. Obama may be tempted to give in to win Republican cooperation for other parts of his legislative agenda. He should resist that temptation, and get to work right away appointing the kind of highly qualified, progressive-minded judges the nation needs.”

HOLT CALLS FOR ANTHRAX PROBE. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has introduced a bill that would establish a congressional commission to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks and the federal government’s response to and investigation of the attacks. “All of us—but especially the families of the victims of the anthrax attacks—deserve credible answers about how the attacks happened and whether the case really is closed,” Holt said in a news release. While the FBI asserted that a deceased US Army research scientist, Bruce Ivins, alone perpetrated the attack, Glenn Greenwald wrote at Salon.com (3/4) that huge questions still remain with regards to the anthrax attacks, with the FBI’s case riddled with glaring inconsistencies and internal contradictions. One of the two Senate targets of the attack, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Pa.), stated at a Senate hearing last September that he does not believe the FBI’s case against Ivins, and he does not believe that Ivins acted alone. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), at the same hearing, told the FBI they could never have obtained a conviction against Ivins in court based on their case—riddled, as it is, with so much doubt—and he also demanded an independent evaluation of the FBI’s evidence.Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has been a long-time skeptic of the FBI’s anthrax investigation and has expressed serious doubts about the case against Ivins. the science journal Nature flatly declared in its editorial headline—“Case Not Closed”—and demanded an independent investigation into the FBI’s case. 

Greenwald noted, “Whatever one’s views are on the abstract 9/11-anthrax comparison, there is no question that the anthrax attacks were a major political crime. According to the FBI, the anthrax letters were directed at US Senators (Leahy and then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.) due to their political views (specifically their opposition to the Patriot Act, their allegedly “soft on terrorism” approach, and their pro-choice views).  And perhaps most importantly, the anthrax attacks—again, according to the FBI itself—came from a US Army laboratory, perpetrated by a US Government scientist.

TURNING LEFT PAYS FOR MSNBC. For years broadcasters have resisted putting liberal commentators on radio and TV, but the saturated market of right-wing ranters may leave them no choice. Two years ago, MSNBC executives decided to turn the cable news network more opinionated and politically leftward. BusinessInsider.com noted (3/9) that it’s paying off. MSNBC is up from 341,000 daily viewers in February 2007 to 471,000 in February 2009. The New York Times reported (3/9) that NBC News, which includes the broadcast news division, MSNBC and its website, supplied about 13% of the overall $3.1 bln profit of its parent company, NBC Universal.

LIMBAUGH JOKES ABOUT KENNEDY CANCER. Sen. Ted Kennedy has long been a popular target for conservatives' ire, but since the Massachusetts senator was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and suffered a seizure on Inauguration Day, Republican attacks “have basically ceased,” Chris Good noted at Politics.TheAtlantic.com (3/6). Rush Limbaugh didn't get the memo, Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (3/7), as Limbaugh predicted Kennedy would be 6 feet under by the time Congress passed health care reform. "Before it's all over, it'll be called the Ted Kennedy memorial health care bill," Limbaugh sneered on his show (3/6), Michael Saul reported in the New York Daily News (3/7). Brian Wolff, executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee denounced the remark as "reprehensible." Republican leaders declined to comment, according to Glenn Thrush of Politico.com (3/6).

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2009

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