In the Piedmont Triad we find ourselves in the midst of crosscurrents of ideology where healthcare reform is concerned. On one hand, there is a strong progressive impulse towards expanding the public safety net. On the other, a reflex towards minimizing costs for businesses and reducing the burden on the taxpayer. Sen. Kay Hagan, the Democrat from Greensboro, has been nudged into progressive camp. Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican from Winston-Salem, has been a passionate advocate for small businesses. Last month, Adam Linker published a post on the Progressive Pulse blog urging Hagan to “take some leadership” on healthcare reform, and support the public insurance policy option. “Otherwise,” he said, “she will take a leap for the middle ground and find that there is nothing there.” Hagan obviously heeded the call. On July 2, she joined her Democratic colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in support of the public option, calling it “a backstop option for people without access to affordable coverage.” Even with all the Democrats on board with the public option now on the Senate health committee, the bill is making painfully slow progress. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Democrat from Maryland, said on July 9 that the committee has yet to deliberate and vote on upwards of 200 amendments proposed by members. Burr, along with Republican colleagues Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, has been among the right’s most valiant warriors in trying to defang the Affordable Health Choices Act. “This is a great debate to have,” he said on July 9. “I think this is why it’s beneficial not to rush these. We’re now in the twelfth or thirteenth day — I’ve lost track. But I think it’s becoming obvious that there are people who want to kill private insurance, and they want government to take it over.” Hagan, in comparison, was virtually absent during the mark-up session, voting by proxy with her Democratic colleagues. (The mark-up sessions are can be viewed online, by the way, at help.senate.gov; this counts as a significant step forward for democratic transparency.) Meanwhile, a noisier debate is playing out back home, where the supporters and opponents of the public option are taking their message to the streets and rallying their troops on the internet. Supporters of the public option kept the heat on by reading testimonies about poor outcomes in the current health system outside Hagan’s office in Greensboro on July 9. A video circulating on the internet shows witnesses raising their voices to be heard above the rumble of a motorcycle and a country music blasting from a boom box courtesy of a conservative counterdemonstrator. Opponents are also on the move, with an Americans For Prosperity ad circulating on YouTube urging viewers to ask their congressional representatives to vote against “government-run healthcare.” Their pitch is strident: Former Rockingham County journalist Jeffrey Sykes tweaked his ideological foes at MoveOn.org by calling them “affiliates of the National Socialist Democratic Party,” a not-so-subtle allusion to the Third Reich. The Democrats show little inclination to budge, insisting that American families earning up to 400 percent of the poverty level — about $88,000 for a family of four — should have the option of signing onto a public plan that would subsidize their healthcare in inverse proportion to their income. “The idea here was to try to calibrate this so that a family up to 400 percent of poverty would pay up to 12-and-a-half percent of their income for coverage and we would provide a subsidy for the excess over that,” said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the Democrat from New Mexico. “And by doing that we would try to ensure that the cost of healthcare for families at 400 percent of poverty and down would be affordable…. I think if we’re going to accomplish the purpose of making the purchase of healthcare affordable for all Americans, something like what we’ve got in the bill makes a lot of sense.”
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