Columns » Ernest Dumas

People don't matter; business, industry do



The campaign to stiffen the spines of the handful of lawmakers who want to stop health insurance for 100,000 to 200,000 Arkansans who are in economic misery perfectly mirrors the hard-right crusade, the most successful political movement of our time.

Bankrolled and guided by some of the nation's richest men and most profitable industries, it has metamorphosed into a latter-day populist movement, where working-class folks vote against their self-interest and brood about all the outrages visited upon them by liberals, elites, the government, scientists, feminists, gun haters and atheists, all led by a cunning and vicious president who only happens to be black. Everything that is going wrong in their lives or that they fear will go wrong is part of the Obama plot.

For three years Obamacare has been the dark menace that is going to take their jobs, destroy their futures and bankrupt their country. The vast fortune of the Koch brothers and heavily bankrolled front groups with civic-sounding names — Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform, the Center to Protect Patients' Rights, Americans for Job Security, Americans for Responsible Leadership — have kept Obamacare fears at the front of the national cerebral cortex.

This month, little Arkansas has been the object of their attention and specifically the tea-party faction in the Arkansas legislature that wants to end the so-called "private option," a plan devised by Arkansas Republicans to buy private health insurance for some 200,000 citizens whose incomes are so low they cannot afford to pay any of the premiums for a health policy. Obamacare anticipated that the government would pay hospitals and doctors for their care, as it does with most other Medicaid beneficiaries, but the Republicans, or many of them, thought it better that they enjoy the benefits of the real Obamacare — the private health insurance exchanges.

If nine members of the Senate — only 7 percent of the legislature — will stand firm at this month's fiscal session and vote against the Medicaid appropriation, Obamacare foes think it will scuttle the program and score a huge symbolic victory nationally. Republican legislators who were backed by Koch and other front groups like Americans for Prosperity have been getting heat to stand against the private option, which they say is real Obamacare in Republican clothing.

This week, the principal Koch group, Americans for Prosperity, which spent close to $2 million two years ago electing Arkansas Republicans and Obamacare foes, sent legislators a different message. Sensing that defeat of the program by a tiny minority might send a bad message for Republicans in an election year, the organization's Arkansas chief said it would be all right to let the private option continue this year and then concentrate on killing it outright in 2015, after the election.

Not Americans for Tax Reform, the big national group that works for lower taxes on wealth, greater military spending, privatized Social Security, a voucher system to replace Medicare and caps on Medicaid for the poor and disabled.

Saturday, the state affairs manager for Grover Norquist's lobby penned an op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which carries anti-Obamacare diatribes almost daily on its editorial page, even while its news pages carry moving accounts of people helped by Obamacare. He explained why it's important for the nine Republicans to be steadfast and kill the private option now.

The piece betrayed the real interest of the movement, and it was not the sons and daughters of toil.

The only reason anyone has for not killing the private option now, he suggested, is the chamber of commerce's warning that doing so might cause a few large employers in Arkansas that do not offer health insurance to their employees to pay new federal taxes because their low-wage workers would lose their health coverage.

Scaring people like that is a dastardly plot, he said. He reassured legislators and the public that they need not worry: The business owners are not likely to pay higher taxes if insurance for the poor ends abruptly and forever. Everything will be peachy again.

But what about more than 100,000 Arkansans who will lose their ability to get medical attention when they need it and another 100,000 or so who are expected to sign up over the next two years? That is the only real issue at the legislature, not whether a few business owners might pay a little tax for not helping their low-wage workers get health care. The Americans for Prosperity agent never mentioned them, even obliquely.

See, everyone knows that businessmen really count, but poor working stiffs? They're just in the way. The government's job is to see that everything is done to create a climate for businessmen and professionals to prosper, but it is not to provide a better quality of life for those who didn't prepare themselves for high-paying careers.

But here's the success of the movement: Many, perhaps most, of those who will lose their insurance will curse Obama and the liberals and vote for Tom Cotton and the candidates backed by Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers.

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