Thursday, September 03, 2009

The key to a bipartisan healthcare solution: adopt the Nixon plan!

When I was a freshman in high school, I joined the debating team. I have no idea if it still works this way, but back then all debate competitions nationally were based on a single question, and teams had to be able to take either side of the issue. And so the issues chosen tended to be live issues in society, and that were likely to find significant numbers of people in real life who would either support or oppose.

The issue that year was, as best as I can recall: resolved, that there should be a guaranteed annual income for every American. In other words, during the last year of the Nixon Administration, people were entertaining the idea of a huge expansion of the welfare state, in a way that seems impossibly socialist by today's standards. And do you know who proposed this idea in real life? Richard Nixon.

(I can't find where I related this story before, though I vaguely remember writing about it.)

If that anecdote doesn't convince you of how dramatically the "center" has shifted in the 3+ decades since, then perhaps this will: Richard Nixon (who, after all, created the EPA, normalized relations with China, and pursued detente with the USSR), also proposed health care reform that we should be thrilled to have now.

Here's how Tricky Dick pitched his plan himself back in 1974:

One of the most cherished goals of our democracy is to assure every American an equal opportunity to lead a full and productive life.

In the last quarter century, we have made remarkable progress toward that goal, opening the doors to millions of our fellow countrymen who were seeking equal opportunities in education, jobs and voting.

Now it is time that we move forward again in still another critical area: health care.
Early last year, I directed the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to prepare a new and improved plan for comprehensive health insurance. That plan, as I indicated in my State of the Union message, has been developed and I am presenting it to the Congress today. I urge its enactment as soon as possible.

The plan is organized around seven principles:

First, it offers every American an opportunity to obtain a balanced, comprehensive range of health insurance benefits;

Second, it will cost no American more than he can afford to pay;
Third, it builds on the strength and diversity of our existing public and private systems of health financing and harmonizes them into an overall system;

Fourth, it uses public funds only where needed and requires no new Federal taxes;

Fifth, it would maintain freedom of choice by patients and ensure that doctors work for their patient, not for the Federal Government.

Sixth, it encourages more effective use of our health care resources;

Upon adoption of appropriate Federal and State legislation, the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan would offer to every American the same broad and balanced health protection through one of three major programs:

--Employee Health Insurance, covering most Americans and offered at their place of employment, with the cost to be shared by the employer and employee on a basis which would prevent excessive burdens on either;

--Assisted Health Insurance, covering low-income persons, and persons who would be ineligible for the other two programs, with Federal and State government paying those costs beyond the means of the individual who is insured; and,

--An improved Medicare Plan, covering those 65 and over and offered through a Medicare system that is modified to include additional, needed benefits.
One of these three plans would be available to every American, but for everyone, participation in the program would be voluntary.

The benefits offered by the three plans would be identical for all Americans, regardless of age or income. Benefits would be provided for:
--hospital care;
--physicians' care in and out of the hospital;
--prescription and life-saving drugs;
--laboratory tests and X-rays;
--medical devices;
--ambulance services; and,
--other ancillary health care.

There would be no exclusions of coverage based on the nature of the illness. For example, a person with heart disease would qualify for benefits as would a person with kidney disease.

What Nixon proposed isn't just better than what we have now. It is better than anything today's Republicans have proposed. It is far better than what "Democrat" Max Baucus is now offering. And, if Obama wimps out on Wednesday, it is arguably better than what our "progressive" President will settle for.

Bloggers have been talking about the massive shift of the Overton window since the demonization of the DFHs began decades ago. It is hard to imagine a more effective example of that shift.

The way this story has been touched upon recently has been in connection with the passing of Ted Kennedy, and in the revisionist claim that Teddy's failure to agree to this plan because he was holding out for single payor was his his greatest regret.

My first thought upon seeing Nixon's plan was that it was yet another amusing but useless trivia point. But then I realized how useful it could be to our cause.

When President Obama leans in to the microphone before the Joint Session on Wednesday, he should say something like this:

Ted Kennedy devoted his life to the cause of delivering decent health care to every American regardless of income. The need was there long before he entered Congress in 1962; it is even greater after his passing.

In 1974, Republican Richard Nixon proposed a health care plan that Democrats thought was not good enough. They pushed for a single payor system. In the end, they got nothing.

I want to correct that mistake, and deliver what Ted Kennedy devoted his life to achieving. And so, I propose that we all -- Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, President and Congress -- do what a Republican President proposed 35 years ago.

I challenge my fellow Democrats -- stand not just with me, but with the Republican President the House nearly impeached in 1974. I challenge Republicans -- do you really want to call what Nixon proposed "communism"?

Here, then, is bi-partisanship: the Nixon-Obama plan.

Would it work? My crystal ball is murky. One downside is that the wingnuts will use this move as an excuse to donate Tricky Dick to us lie-bruls. But c'mon, kids. They've already tried to rebrand another notorious right wing nutjob as one of ours:

If they've turned Hitler into a liberal, how much more damage can they do?

And no less a figure than Noam Chomsky has called Nixon "in many respects the last liberal president." And, of course, there is the fact that while half the wingnutosphere is ready to make Hitler one of us, the other half is busy trying to rehabilitate him.

Back on the debate team, we had a name for a left-field proposal that was calculated to surprise the opposition: a squirrel. Squirrels don't always work, but they can totally disarm a team that can't think on its feet.

So there you go, Mr. President -- your very own squirrel.


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