Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The Political Hazards Of “Health Care Reform”

The NY Times tells us this morning that we’re likely to get health care reform whether we want it or not.

Frankly I’m not sure why that should be a surprise to anyone. Democrats know that they have to pass something or they’ll effectively, to use Howard Dean’s phrase, “kill the presidency” of Barack Obama.

So it should come as no surprise, really, that Democrats are finally talking about whatever is necessary, to include completely ignoring Republicans, to get a bill through both houses of Congress for the president’s signature.

But the exclusion of Republicans doesn’t mean smooth sailing for Democrats. Numbers-wise they certainly have the majorities they need in both houses to pass legislation. This particular legislation, however, has become fraught with political danger. Many Democrats are very wary of it because of the demonstrated unhappiness of their constituencies and the probable 2010 impact that may have. This is especially true of more conservative Democrats, even those is primarily Democratic districts. And “Blue Dogs” who managed to win in historically red districts are terrified.

Certainly by cutting out the Republicans, they can write the legislation as they want it. But certain parts, such as the so-called “death panels” and “public option”, have little public support. And, in general, polls continue to make the point that a majority of Americans want this present attempt scratched and want Congress to “start over”.

On top of that, it appears the majority of Americans do not agree that “something” has to be passed quickly. Instead, it appears, the public wants an extended debate and believe that such a debate is just beginning.

That sets up the conflict of political interests the Democrats face. They believe, now that they’ve brought it up and the president has made it one of his signature issues, that unless they pass it (or something they can call “health care reform”) they’ll have set him up for failure. However, they are also coming to realize that passing something now despite a majority of Americans saying slow down and start over could be hazardous to their political health – and majorities.

As they finally did with George Bush and the Republicans, I believe Americans are again realizing not just the benefit but the necessity for divided government to keep both sides “honest”. Government needs a bit of competition too. And if Democrats ram health care reform legislation through, whether with our without Republican support, they’re most likely to see such “competition” become reality in 2010.

~McQ

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“Denial” Isn’t A River In Egypt

I swear I have no idea what the left is smoking, but whatever it is, it makes them blind to reality. One of the more prominent examples of this condition is Steve Benen at Washington Monthly’s “Political Animal”.

He cites Kevin Drum who remembers what the Republicans faced when they too had both houses of Congress and the Presidency:

They wanted a revolution, but instead they got NCLB. And a wimpy stem cell compromise. And Sarbanes-Oxley. And McCain-Feingold. And a huge Medicare expansion. And complete gridlock on Social Security.

Not exactly what they signed up for.

Drum goes on to sarcastically point out that Reps did get a nice tax cut and a couple nice wars, but his point was that “Washington DC is a tough place to get anything done.” And at the time, Democrats were no small part of the reason.

Benen then adds his two cents about why Republicans found DC a tough place based on some rather dubious analysis. Then he adds this:

Obama is finding that D.C. is tough place to get anything done for entirely different reasons. The White House agenda is popular, but his obstacles are almost entirely institutional hurdles — the Senate operating as if every bill demands a supermajority, the Kennedy/Byrd illnesses, and the prevalence of center-right Dems in both chambers who look askance at the progressive agenda and who the president has no real leverage over.

A) As we’ve pointed out, the belief that the White House agenda is popular is not reflected at all in polling. Why Benen and the Democrats believe this can only be categorized as “denial”.

B) The Senate rules, something Senators agree too on their own, does require every bill have a supermajority. Benen wants those rules ignored for a simple majority that he’s sure they can squeak out. I understand his desire, but pretending that the “supermajority” is some artifice that isn’t required is BS.

C) The reason for the prevalence of center-right Dems reflects a majority center-right nation. Not a “progressive” nation. And, obviously if you pay attention to the polls, they’re not the only one’s who look askance at a “progressive agenda”.

The only thing Benen and I agree on is “the president has no real leverage” and he proves it every day.

~McQ

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Don’t Want No War No More – Oh. Nevermind.

Byron York wonders where the anti-war movement has gone since GW Bush is gone. He notes that Cindy Sheehan is protesting this weekend at Martha’s Vinyard where President Obama is vacationing, but wonders if the left cares or whether the media will cover that.

As York demonstrates in his piece, the answer to both questions is probably no. I don’t think we have to think back very far to remember the caterwalling by the “anti-war” left about the war in Iraq and to a lesser degree, Afghanistan.

Now, even though the United States still has roughly 130,000 troops in Iraq, and is quickly escalating the war in Afghanistan — 68,000 troops there by the end of this year, and possibly more in 2010 — anti-war voices on the Left have fallen silent.

And, of course, Iraq will most likely have troops in that country for years to come – and not a peep from the left.

I’ve also noticed that suddenly we don’t get the nightly death toll on the network news show or the more left leaning cable channels.

And the only thing that has changed is what? Oh, yeah, that Bush guy isn’t around.

At Netroots Nation pollster Stanley Greenberg did a little sampling of the “progressive crowd”. His findings were interesting:

He asked people to list the two priorities they believed “progressive activists should be focusing their attention and efforts on the most.” The winner, by far, was “passing comprehensive health care reform.” In second place was enacting “green energy policies that address environmental concerns.”

And what about “working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan”? It was way down the list, in eighth place.

Perhaps more tellingly, Greenberg asked activists to name the issue that “you, personally, spend the most time advancing currently.” The winner, again, was health care reform. Next came “working to elect progressive candidates in the 2010 elections.” Then came a bunch of other issues. At the very bottom — last place, named by just one percent of participants — came working to end U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On a single day in January, the “anti-war” movement apparently died. The wars? Still there and still going on. It’s hard not to conclude that it was never about war for the left – instead, it was all about politics – and the unrefined but enduring hatred of one man.

~McQ

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Ducati Execs Do the Right Thing

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It’s no secret that the recent worldwide economic downturn has seriously affected motorcycle sales, sending them plunging by a third.  Now here in the United States, it’s become a common thing to see executives at big firms take huge bonuses, even when the company isn’t doing so hot.  The most egregious example of this was when failed insurer AIG took billions of dollars in Federal money for a bailout of the company, then promptly paid off millions and millions in executive bonuses with it.

Apparently, things are different in Italy, where senior executives at Ducati, faced with slumping sales, did the right thing.

Senior executives at Ducati have taken a 10 per cent cut in their pay and will not receive any bonuses because of the decline, while [Ducati CEO] Mr [Gabriele] Del Torchio said he had taken a 20 per cent pay cut.

Let’s leave aside any legalistic or other arguments about whether the executives should be compensated or not.  At the end of the day, when you’re cutting production, and laying off staff, it seems only right that the pain should be shared by everyone else in the company, all the way to the top.

Kudos to Ducati for setting an example of shared sacrifice.

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Comments

OK folks – we’ve had numerous complaints about the comment system and it is our considered opinion that it is a problem with one of the plug-ins. So I’ve disabled the plug-in.

That means that you need to use html tags if you want bold, italic or blockquotes.

It looks like spacing will work without html tags. If we find a plug in that works with WP or the one we disabled is updated to work with this version of WP, we’ll hook it back up

~McQ

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A Majority Of Americans Say Stimulus Not Working

Speaking of skeptical Americans, there’s not much of anything this administration is saying that they believe. For instance, in a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 57% of them say the stimulus isn’t working:

Six months after President Obama launched a $787 billion plan to right the nation’s economy, a majority of Americans think the avalanche of new federal aid has cost too much and done too little to end the recession.

That’s a pretty stark number, and I would guess the administration knows that it is more likely to go up rather than down considering how the stimulus funds were to be disbursed over the years.

75% said they were very worried or somewhat worried that the stimulus funds were being wasted. 60% think the plan will have no effect or actually make things worse. 81% believe that in the short run the plan has made their own financial situation worse or had no effect, and 70% believe the plan will make their financial situation worse or have no effect in the long run.

That is a glaring lack of confidence in government. It is also another indication of why I continue to say that the anger you see at townhall meetings isn’t just about health care. For decades through the administrations of both parties we’ve seen the metaphor about the frog in slowly heated water acted out.

But what happened late last year was the heat under the frog was turned up to high and the frog finally noticed it and didn’t like it. Bailouts and “stimulus” in the trillions with money we don’t have. The government takeover of banks, financial institutions and auto companies. Deficits exponentially larger than any in history and extending into the future as far as the eye can see. And then the attempt to regulate emissions in the face of unsettled and dubious “science” through cap-and-trade, and the final straw, the health care grab.

The frog has jumped out of the pot and is yelling “WTF!”

And folks, that’s a good thing.

~McQ

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Skeptical Americans Continue To Say No To Democratic Health Care Plan

Rasmussen reports:

Just 27% of all voters agree with the senior House Democrats [Pelosi/Hoyer] that if the health care reform being considered by Congress is passed, it will mean more patient choice. Forty-nine percent (49%) disagree and do not believe more patient choice is likely, and 24% are not sure.

Among voters who have health insurance, the majority (52%) says the plan, if passed, will not mean more patient choice, while 25% say it will.

Democrats like to blame that disparity in support on “misinformation” circulating out there as well as “un-American” protesters keeping them from getting the “facts” out at townhalls.

But, in actuality, their “facts” and their message has been getting out. The president has held three “townhalls” not to mention an op/ed in the NY Times in which he has, without interruption, been able to lay out both the message and the Democrats version of the facts. And the polls continue to tank.

That’s because the message is one that most don’t believe. That’s primarily because a majority of Americans believe the “facts” upon which it is based are dubious at best. For instance, as Peter Ferrara points out:

At his town hall meeting on health care on Saturday in Colorado, President Obama told the audience:

“I just want to be completely clear about this; I keep on saying this but somehow folks aren’t listening — if you like your health care plan, you keep your health care plan.”

That is, unless your health care plan is Medicare Advantage — the private insurance options that almost one-fourth of seniors have chosen for their coverage under Medicare. Republicans enacted this choice for seniors, and many, many seniors have chosen one of these private insurance options because they get better benefits from it than from standard Medicare.

President Obama’s health plan targets these Medicare Advantage private plans for $177 billion in cuts in what he misleadingly calls “subsidies”and “sweetheart deals for insurance companies that don’t make anybody any healthier.”At a minimum, these cuts will force these plans to cut back on the benefits they provide to seniors. Or the Medicare Advantage plans may just go out of business altogether, dumping all the seniors who have made that choice because they think they are getting a better deal from those plans.

Seniors know what that means and are rejecting the glib assurances from Obama that he isn’t really saying what he’s saying.

And that rejection of the president’s mantra doesn’t even touch on the effect of the ‘public option’ which various experts say would see 10 to 80 million shifted into it from their present plans.

If one of the targets of this plan is private insurance companies and the goal is to “keep them honest”, it doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to figure out that the chances are very good your private plan may go away.

Back to seniors. They’ve also seen through Obama’s assertions, given as “fact”, that there won’t be any reduction in Medicare benefits:

In these town halls, President Obama has repeatedly denied that his health overhaul scheme includes any cuts in Medicare. But besides slashing Medicare Advantage, the Congressional bills cut over $300 billion more from the program, which the Congressional Budget Office has scored. When arguing that his health overhaul is paid for, he wants credit for these cuts. But when challenged, he wants to deny before the whole country — in broad daylight — that he is doing it. I can’t recall any precedent for such a presidential disconnect from reality.

The disconnect comes from his unfamiliarity with the bill and the fact that he’s turned over the responsibility for it to Congress. Consequently he is out touting something that doesn’t exist. He may actually desire that Medicare not reduce benefits, but that’s not what the bill says. Those “savings” have got to come from somewhere, and since the administration loves to assert that Medicare is so much more efficient than private insurance, that leaves the benefits area from which to reap those savings.

Again, you don’t have to be a MIT grad to figure that out. And seniors have figured it out. That’s they’re rejecting Obama’s assurances.

Obama also continues to claim that overall this plan will save health care dollars, and, magically, eliminate the unfunded future liability in Medicare.

In Colorado on Saturday, President Obama suggested that his health overhaul scheme would “bend the cost curve,”reducing “health care inflation”so much that the enormous long term deficit of Medicare (unfunded liability: $89 trillion) would be eliminated! Otherwise, he said, “We’ll either have to cut Medicare, in which case seniors then will bear the brunt of it, or we’ll have to raise taxes, which nobody likes.”

But the CBO has not confirmed anything like that. What it has said, again, is just the opposite, that Obama’s health plans will not reduce costs, but, rather, will increase federal spending by close to a trillion dollars.

Since, as is pointed out, the CBO said nothing of the sort and, in fact, said precisely to opposite, what does that leave us? Well once you know that CBO said this plan would increase cost, we are left with the reality of Medicare cuts and tax increases.

That’s right: “…cut Medicare [benefits], in which case seniors then will bear the brunt of it, or we’ll have to raise taxes…”, or both. The cuts in Medicare, as mentioned, are already in the plan. Taxes going up is inevitable if this gets passed. He’s asserting a fantasy based on a lie and using the Medicare cuts and tax increases as a scare tactic to get the fantasy passed.

And of course, finally, after having this officially denied by AARP, he continues to say, at two townhalls after the denial, that AARP is “onboard” with their plan. That continued unfounded assertion is costing AARP thousands of members quitting in disgust.

In other words, it isn’t that the message isn’t getting out there, but that most Americans don’t agree on who is doing the mischaracterizing. It appears they believe that it is the Democrats and the president who are attempting to sell a program which they are mischaracterizing as something it is not.

In return for their refusal to be duped, Americans are being called all sorts of names by the hired help. It is an amazing spectacle in which the servant calls the master names because the master doesn’t like the servant’s crack-pot ideas and doesn’t believe their talking points.

The irony, of course, is much like the Republicans when they lost the Congress in 2006, the Democrats have yet to figure this out. They’re lost in the belief that their problem lies in messaging and if they just do a better job of delivering it all will be fine. What they don’t realize is the message is out there and it has been rejected.

Most voters (54%) now say no health care reform legislation this year would be better than passage of the bill currently working its way through Congress. This does not mean that most voters are opposed to health care reform, but it does highlight the level of concern about the specifics now being discussed in Washington.

The message from the majority? Slow down, there is no rush, drop this mess and rethink it. If Democrats don’t listen and ram something through, they do so at their own peril and there will be consequences.

~McQ

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DNA Evidence Can Be Faked

Apparently, according to some scientists, you can engineer a crime scene in such a way as to leave DNA evidence to convict whomever you want:

The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.

“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”

Obviously few if any crime scenes will be engineered, at least in the near future, but I could see a criminal business popping up where such fabricated DNA might be useful.

But fear not – there’s a reason this has been announced now:

Dr. Frumkin is a founder of Nucleix, a company based in Tel Aviv that has developed a test to distinguish real DNA samples from fake ones that it hopes to sell to forensics laboratories.

I’ll be he does.

Heh … the market works – see a need, fill it and the world will beat a pathway to your door. Well maybe not the world, but at least a few odd forensic labs.

~McQ

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Representiative Democracy or Rule Of The Elite?

On paper, we are a Constitutional Republic, meaning we elect representatives to represent our interests in Congress. So in theory and reality these representatives work for us, since they can’t get into office unless we hire them via the vote. We elect them, we direct them, and if and when we become displeased with their performance or they’re not representing our best interests, we give them the opportunity to find new employment.

That’s how most of us understand it is supposed to work. One of the first indicators it isn’t working exactly that way right now is the attitude of Democratic lawmakers toward their constituents at townhalls who have, obviously, been a bit confrontational.

Instead of trying to figure out what is causing the obvious frustration, Democrats have further stoked it by calling their constituents names and characterizing them as a ‘mob’ or ‘political terrorists’ or ‘un-American’ for opposing what they’re legislatively pushing. Then after insulting the constituency the irony-impaired Democrats have the audacity to lecture them on “rudeness” and “incivility”. Apparently using the term “brownshirts” to describe voters in your district is neither “rude” or “uncivil”.

Certainly all of those are indicators of something that constituents have been unhappy with for quite some time (and that is why I continue to say that this isn’t just about health care). The theory seems to not represent what is actually happening.

But it’s hard to point at one thing and say, “this isn’t representative democracy, it has become the rule of the elite.”

Thankfully there’s always someone who hasn’t figured out that we have both video cameras and digital recorders and will, in an unguarded moment when he or she thinks they’re among friends, say what they really believe without spin.

Meet Democratic New York Representative Eric Massa, who, while reveling in the cocoon of the Netroots Nation over the weekend (instead of holding a townhall meeting in his usually Republican district) provided a glimpse of why the Democrats sound like they do:

MASSA: I’m not going to vote for 3200 as it’s currently written. Step one, I will vote for a single payer option or a bill that does have a medicare coupled public option, which we don’t have right now. If my town hall meetings turn into the same media frenzies and ridiculousness, because every time that happens we lose, We lose another three million people in America. They see that happening and negate us.

PARTICIPANT: It changes America.

MASSA: Every time that occurs. So what happens in my town hall meetings frankly is important, because I am in one of the most right wing Republican districts in the country, and I’m not asking you guys to go back to wherever and send people to me. This is a generic statement of what can I do? Well that’s one thing we can do.

PARTICIPANT: So if we got your meetings to sixty forty, you’d vote…and there was single payer in a bill you would vote for it?

MASSA: Oh absolutely I would vote for single payer.

PARTICIPANT: If there was sixty forty sentiment in the room?

MASSA: Listen, I tell every audience I’m in favor of single payer.

PARTICIPANT: If there was eighty twenty in the room?

MASSA: If there was a single payer bill?

PARTICIPANT: And there was a single payer….

MASSA: I will vote for the single payer bill.

PARTICIPANT: Even if it meant you were being voted out of office?

MASSA: I will vote adamantly against the interests of my district if I actually think what I am doing is going to be helpful.

(inaudible participants’ comments regarding the “interests” of the district statement from Mr. Massa)

Massa: I will vote against their opinion if I actually believe it will help them.

Folks it doesn’t get any clearer than that. Mr. Massa isn’t there to “represent” anyone. He’s made it clear that his agenda and his party’s agenda take precedence over anything his constituency wants. If they agree with him fine. But if they don’t, he obviously doesn’t care one whit. His mind is made up, he’s not going to hold any townhalls and his constituency can go pound sand, because Mr. Massa has already decided what is best for them.

They should just sit down and shut up and let their betters decide what’s good for them.

As you might imagine, and as demonstrated at the various townhalls you’ve seen (and which Mr. Massa refuses to hold), that isn’t sitting well with many Americans. 2010 may indeed provide an opportunity for Americans to let quite a number of lawmakers with Mr. Massa’s attitude seek new employment.

Correction: It has been brought to my attention that Rep. Massa has held townhall meetings and plans to hold more.

~McQ

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Public Option Questions

The reasoning behind the much ballyhooed, on-again, off-again “Public Option” has never made much sense to me, but lately I’ve noticed a few things that make it even less understandable.

For example, as Bruce highlighted below, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said the following about it on Sunday:

“The only way we can be sure that very low-income people and persons who work for companies that don’t offer insurance have access to it, is through an option that would give the private insurance companies a little competition,” she said.

Johnson added that House liberals have already told Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that she should insist on White House support for a public option.

How does a public plan offer competition to insurance companies by covering people who don’t have access to insurance? Apparently, these are people who insurance companies aren’t interested in catering to, so there is no competition to gain them as clients. Giving them “free” health insurance from the government isn’t going to change that. Instead, it’s just going to cost more taxpayer money.

Here’s another head-scratcher from Susie Madrak:

Oh, the Republicans have been having a field day with this mantra – that employers would shunt their employees into the public plan. But they’re really upset for the same reason Sebelius mentioned as a positive: Job lock. Above all else, the Republican party stands for cheap, disposable labor with no rights or protections. God forbid you should have a public option – you could up and leave your job anytime you wanted!

While I agree that we would all be better off if health insurance was decoupled from our jobs, I’m not sure that the public option prevents “job lock”. Presumably, what keeps most of us from “up and leaving” our employment on a whim is the paycheck we receive and not the health care insurance. And even if we do, COBRA is already in place to help maintain coverage, and HIPAA prevents insurance companies from refusing to cover any pre-existing conditions. Moreover, if having a public option encourages people to cease being productive members of society (i.e. working at a job), that would be a net negative for society, and would surely cause a loss of tax revenues (which we would need a lot more of in order to pay for all that “free” health care). I just don’t see how a public option can prevent “job lock” any more than we already have now, and even if it did, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

And then there is this little ditty from Publius that requires the suspension of an enormous amount of disbelief to even begin pondering:

In terms of broader perspective, Jacob Hacker has one of the best defenses of the public option that I’ve seen. One important point he raises is that it’s actually a way to prevent overreliance on excessive regulations and bureaucracy.

The argument is fairly simple. Any type of reform is going to require a lot of regulatory oversight. That means detailed regulations, lots of regulators, etc. If, however, the country had a public option, the insurers would suddenly have a market incentive to comply with these requirements without so much regulatory coercion and administrative costs.

In this respect, the public option actually reduces the need for government — and reduces the threat of agency capture and other public choice-ish problems (especially at the state level).

First of all, has there ever been any government program that didn’t have a slew of regulators accompanying it, much less one so massive as to cover the entire nation?

Secondly, if you go and read Jacob Hacker’s post, you will see that the whole point of the public plan (in his view) is to make all the private plans that may be left (i.e. those accepted to be offered within the insurance exchange run by the government) act just like the public plan. Yet the private plans will never be able to function the same way that the Public Option does, and so the chances are that such plans will go bankrupt trying.

In essence, there would be three types of plans: Public Option, Inside the Exchange, and Outside the Exchange. The Outside plans would be prohibited from signing up new insureds, so they will eventually die off. The Inside plans will be forced to compete against the Public Option for new customers as well as for keeping the ones it already has. Because the Public Option will be unchallengeable — that is, immune from lawsuit by competitors — and financed by the deepest pockets in the world, the Inside plans will be at a grave disadvantage. Not only will the Public Option be able to offer lower cost plans at the expense of taxpayers, it will also have the ability to hide administrative costs thus making itself appear much more efficient than the Inside plans. The Inside plans, therefore, will have to compete against a much better capitalized, immune from lawsuit, more efficient on paper Public Option without any of the Public Option’s benefits or access. There is simply no way for them to act like a better government plan than the real thing, and they will eventually collapse.

How does that make anything better, much less cheaper, if the Public Option drives all the competition out of the market, leaving taxpayers holding the bag for everyone’s health care?

It is this competition that Hacker thinks will force the Inside plans to behave pursuant to the laws and regulation granting them access to the exchange, and which Publius thinks will save money on regulatory costs, etc. Yet those laws are going to have to be policed, and the regulations will still have to be promulgated to carry out the Act. While the Inside plans may have a little extra incentive to behave in the way that the government wants (Hacker’s example is using across-the-board community rating so that everyone pays the same premium for insurance) by having to compete against the Public Option, they would still have to comply with Act if there were no Public Option. Moreover, what would make the regulators jobs even easier is that each of Inside plans would be more than happy to rat out a plan that doesn’t behave, thus possibly reducing competition and grabbing a larger slice of the exchange market for itself.

In short, there is simply no way that having a Public Option is going shrink the government or save any money in regulatory costs. To believe so, one has to ignore all history of government and disregard how market competition under a regulatory regime actually works.

Those are just of few of the questions I’ve had about why a Public Option is so gosh darn important. The fact of the matter is that, other than the hardcore progressives, no one will say the real reason that they want the Public Option: so that all profit incentive is wrung out of the delivery of health care. It’s a stupid reason to want government run health care, but I think it’s pretty clear that’s the real reason. All these other excuses are lame attempts to hide the ball. Which is probably why they don’t make any sense.

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