Today's Wall Street Journal has a page A1 article (and accompanying blog post) about John Edward's decision to invoke the Nataline Sarkisyan case in his campaign-trail discussions of health care. Sarkisyan, you may remember, was the 17-year-old California girl who died a few weeks ago, shortly after her family's insurance company turned down her doctors' request that they cover a liver transplant for her. The tone of the article is somewhat negative toward Edwards' decision, and not all of their criticism is entirely unfair.
Edwards, they claim, "has been bashing big health insurers in recent days with the [Sarkisyan] story ... but ... may be oversimplifying the tale." In truth, the Journal is almost certainly right. Sarkisyan's case was very complex. The transplant was very risky. According to her doctors, the transplant would give her a 65% chance of surviving for another six months, and even if the transplant was a complete success, there would still be the problem of the underlying leukemia to deal with. It's entirely possible (if not probable) that the chief medical officer for the insurer is correct when he says that, "It is highly unlikely that any health-care insurance system, nationally or internationally, would have covered this procedure."
Despite all that, Edwards is absolutely right to put this case front and center in the debate over health care policy in this coverage. There may be a great deal of room for debate over the details, but the undisputed facts of the case illustrate both some of the key problems with our health care system and the complete and utter fallacy of one of the primary sound bites used by the politicians who oppose any significant health care reform.
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It looks like Nancy Pelosi might be getting just a wee bit frustrated with the Democratic base. It also looks like she's got a lack of understanding of the proper relationship between politicians and the people that sorely needs correcting. At a recent press lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, she said this:
Activists who want to target congressional Democrats for lack of action on the war are misguided, the speaker argued. "I think it is a waste of time for them to go after Democratic members. They ought to just persuade Republican members who are representing areas that are opposed to the war," she said. "We said we would change the debate; we would fight to end the war. We never said we had the veto pen or the signature pen."
According to the Washington Post, she also said something about the difference between her role and the role of the base - at least as she sees it:
"They are advocates," she said. "We are leaders."
That is true, I suppose. Pelosi, Hoyer, Reid, and the rest of their gang are the leaders in Congress. Unfortunately, there's a big difference between being designated as a "leader" and leading. One requires determination, effort, and action. The other requires nothing more than the occupation of space and the consumption of time.
Every time I read articles (like this one, this one, this one or this one) that talk about how the Democrats are having problems getting the 60 votes in the Senate that they need to move Iraq legislation forward, or how they won't be able to get the 2/3rds of both houses that they need to beat a veto, I get angrier. And not with the Republicans who are standing in the way.
The Democrats don't need more than a majority. The President can't spend money unless Congress lets him spend money. If Congress passes a spending bill and he vetoes it, he can't spend money. If Congress fails to pass a spending bill at all, he can't spend money. All the Democrats need to do is stand their ground and refuse to pass any spending bill that doesn't require a firm timetable. That's all that they need to do.
The problem that we've got isn't overcoming Republican resistance. It's the spine of the Democratic leadership. They don't have one. They don't even have shells. I'd call them jellyfish, but even jellyfish can inflict a painful sting. No, we're talking sea cucumbers here - they've got no hard support, and if you stress one too much it reacts by expelling its internal organs all over you.
We've got to stop letting them slide. They're in the majority now, and that means that they shouldn't be able to get off the hook by claiming to be impotent in the face of the big bad Republicans. They've got the support of the public. They need to act like it if they want to retain it.