Tag Archives: Netroots Nation 2008

The Health Care Reform Coalition Has Its Epiphany

(Not totally a local issue, but it involves a lot of local players, and continues on a subject that gets a lot of attention around here, so I thought I’d share.  Reprinted from my site.)

There’s something of a consensus that Netroots Nation didn’t offer enough adversarial panels and instead largely consisted of bloggers agreeing with one another.  But that’s not true.  I personally witnessed the most adversarial panel of the weekend, and it was spectacular, because finally, both factions of the debate about health care policy on the left were able to come together and understand the political contours of the brewing fight in the Congress.


The panel was entitled “Time for Action: How the Netroots Can Lead on Healthcare Reform,” and was put together by Eve Gittleson, who blogs at Daily Kos under the moniker nyceve.  There’s a good liveblog of the panel here, but what you need to know is that Gittleson stacked the deck.  She had some great health care activists who are doing great work in different areas of the space: Giuseppe Del Priore, MD, MPH a New York cancer surgeon; Hilda Sarkisyan, whose daughter, Nataline, died after being denied a liver transplant by Cigna; Rocky Delgadillo, Los Angeles City Attorney, who is pursuing civil and criminal investigation into insurance practices; Geri Jenkins, RN a member of the Council of Presidents of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.  And then Ezra Klein, associate editor for The American Prospect and a health care policy guru, appeared at the end of the panel.  The aforementioned speakers were all powerful advocates.  Sarkysian, whose family HAD health insurance and still couldn’t get their daughter what she needed, said bluntly “This is not a good country anymore.”  Del Priore discussed the need for doctors and patients to handle questions of care and the need to arrest insurance executives for their crimes in denying coverage.  Rocky Delgadillo outlined the schemes, like rescission (even based on spousal applications), that insurers are engaging in to maximize profit at the expense of patient care.  He also mentioned how California regulators ignored a million-dollar fine to Blue Cross because they feared they would lose the case if it went to court, which is just unbelievable.  And Jenkins argued that the insurance industry will play no role in reforming health care, and we need to move immediately to a not-for-profit system.

Good points all.  And then Eve turned to Ezra:

Eve: Ezra, why does HCAN want to condemn Americans to this kind of system? I get confusing emails from Elizabeth Edwards and MoveOn talking about the atrocities of the insurance industry, then marginalizing the only viable solution. Can you explain this new Edwards HCAN initiative, the TV commercials, etc. . . What’s it all about? What are they trying to do? It seems there are three initiatives on the table–676, Wyden  and HCAN.  What’s wrong with Wyden and Edwards? And a follow-up…what can we realistically expect from President Obama?

I hope you don’t mind that I’m sand-bagging you. I love you, really, Ezra. I just don’t agree with you on this point.

This apparently startled Mr. Klein.  But for him to not know the position of Eve and the CNA and an activist like Hilda Sarkysian speaks a lot to his cloistered state in Washington.  Because I know all about this fight.  I made one positive comment about HCAN upon their launch and took massive amounts of crap for it.  I was called a defeatist and admonished for not being true to the cause.  My only point was that having an organization with $40 million dollars to spend on calling out health insurers on their garbage is going to be tremendously helpful to whatever reform we get through the Congress, and furthermore I didn’t see them having much of a place at the table in the policy debate.  In other words they were finally an organization concerned with moving public opinion and playing the health care debate out on political grounds rather than policy grounds.  And on the panel, Klein echoed the importance of politics over policy:

You can take a lot of approaches to health reform. You can emphasize policy, politics, principles, or some mix thereof. Judging from the panel, Health Care for All, and the California Nurses, could use a bit more politics in their approach. It was a panel about “health reform” — not care or policy, but “reform” — at a conference of engaged politicos that never mentioned the Senate, or votes, or the conditions required for presidential signature.

There was a lot of talk about “fighting” insurers and other special interests, but not much about what that fight will look like, or where it will take place, or who decides the winner. My argument, was that, for reformers, insurers aren’t the real enemy. Setting them up as the opponent actually gives them too much credit. Insurers are stupid, profit seeking beasts — the enemy is American politics, and in particular, the structural feature of the US Senate that have repeatedly killed health reform in the past. No matter what your policy preference, that’s where your organizing has to be focused, because that’s where the actual fight happens: In Congress. Not on panels, or on blogs, or among the Left. In the US Senate, where you have to get to 60, or at least figure out how to get rough Democratic unity for using budget reconciliation and then convince Kennedy and Carper to vote “aye” on the same bill.

This is basically the same argument Ezra makes continuously on his site, but it appeared to hit the audience like they never heard it before.  And considering that it’s largely the correct analysis, it was generally well-received, I thought.  I spoke later with Eve, who told me that she had a conversation with someone from HCAN and “they are not the enemy.”  What a concept – all elements of health care advocacy on the left working together, for a change, toward a common goal.

Now granted, this week they all had a big juicy target.  AHIP, the health insurance lobby, put together a fake grassroots front group called The Campaign for an American Solution.  Of course, that “solution” involves funneling more cash and customers to the same broken insurance system we have now.  Now, who was the very first group to coordinate a counter-attack on this front group on the first stop of their listening tour in Columbus, OH?  That’s right, HCAN

Well, that didn’t take long.

A day after Politico reported the health insurance industry is launching a health care reform campaign next week, the progressive reformers are firing back.

Health Care for America Now announced Friday that it plans a news conference and a rally next week to counter the insurance industry’s Campaign for an American Solution, which launches in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday with a roundtable discussion among uninsured locals.

“They’re pretending that the health industry represents the American public, and we need to make it really clear to them and the public that all they represent are their own profits,” said Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for Health Care Now.

Indeed they did attend the launch, and got to ask some tough questions, confronting the head of AHIP and asking her how an insurance industry group could possibly be objective in pushing for lower rates and higher quality coverage when they are concerned solely with the profit motive.  It got heated, and I’m glad they did.  And all of a sudden, Daou’s Triangle started closing.  Rep. Pete Stark came up with a great quote:

“America’s Health Insurance Plans’ new ‘Campaign for an American Solution’ rings as true as the tobacco industry’s efforts to end smoking. There is nothing grassroots about it. It is designed, financed, and coordinated through their Washington trade association with the singular goal of protecting their profits.

“I hope it is true that these companies intend to be a positive force in health reform efforts, but I tend to be cautious when the fox starts drawing up plans for a new henhouse.”

HCAN called up the hotline for the Campaign for an American Solution that they set up for the public to provide input… and they got an answering machine.  They’ve trickled this out one by one and pretty much ruined the launch of AHIP’s front group.  That’s REALLY important for the future of health care reform.  Because on the policy the views are far closer on the left than most people imagine.  Everyone knows that whatever system is ultimately put forward can be paid for in a far better manner than the current wasteful, inefficient system.  So expense should never be a deterrent, meaning we can build whatever system we choose and it is extremely likely to go revenue-neutral very quickly once we eliminate the shoddy budgeting of the current broken system.  We know that health insurers will not jeopardize their profit margins unless they’re forced to.  Once you recognize these two realities, the policy goals become fairly clear.  The political goals have to include attack dogs pushing back on the false memes of the right and the insurance industry, and pressuring the Senate to do the right thing.

Now Obama’s plan includes some better regulation toward insurers (including guaranteed issue and community rating) and a public option to compete with the private insurance market and take the step toward a sequential single-payer.  (His latest addition to the plan, a tax credit for small businesses who offer quality health care, is borrowed directly from the Clinton plan, raising hopes that eventually he’ll just borrow all of it, as he should).  Despite this being a fairly modest set of reforms, McCain and the right are going to denounce it as government-run “Hillarycare” anyway.  So it’s vital to have a broad coalition to give as good as they’ll get from the right and give the lawmakers backbone to push the policy forward.  Matt Stoller writes:

Coalitions are strange beasts, with multiple moving parts, but they are also the only way anything gets done.  A coalition has a core of organizers behind it, and a variety of groups out in front who each take different roles.  Some people can talk to Republicans, some people can talk to Democrats, some people threaten, some people cajole, some people talk to businesses, etc.  HCAN is driven by labor in the form of SEIU, the NEA, AFSCME, and United Food and Commercial Workers, as well as groups primarily funded by labor such as Americans United for Change and the Campaign for America’s Future.  It is also driven by direct mail and Foundation based organizations,  such as La Raza, Planned Parenthood, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Center for Community Change, and the National Women’s Law Center.

Stoller goes on to make the point that HCAN should broaden their mandate and make this a fight about general health, and I agree.  Going after convenience stores that sell fatty, sugar-laden food to kids sounds like it could be a part of their mandate.  The farm bill, the transportation bill (more mass transit and more livable, walkable cities means healthier lives), and others could be brought onto the field of battle.  But the larger point is that coalitions of this nature are built because they work.  And the benefit is that they give lawmakers breathing space to do their job and the spine to do it right.  This moment in health care demands that everyone understands the political spade work necessary to reach the desired outcome.  So out of the ashes of that contentious NN panel came something pretty special.  Groups across the center-left ideological spectrum working together to end the health care crisis in America and restore treatment as a basic human right.

California Pols at Netroots Nation – A Roundup

By my count, we had nine local and federal candidates or elected officials from California joining us in Austin for Netroots Nation.  So much for the adage that us dirty hippie bloggers are to be avoided at all costs.  These candidates and politicians represent the foundation of a progressive alliance that can transform the party and the state over the next decade.  And they all received varying degrees of support at the convention.  Here is a brief roundup in alphabetical order:

1) Secretary of State Debra Bowen – Debra apparently accepted the invitation to appear on a panel about election reform by replying on Facebook.  She is one of our favorites because of her progressive credentials, her commitment to election reform, and her accessibility.  Far from dropping in for the panel and dropping out, she took time to hang out with plenty of us Caliticians.  In fact, during the netroots candidate event, she was simply watching the proceedings when Christine Pelosi called her to the stage – it was not her intention to come as a candidate, but to just attend the conference.  That said, there was a lot of talk among the California delegation about Bowen’s plans for the future.  At least four California convention-goers told me they would quit their jobs to work for Bowen if she sought higher office than the Secretary of State.  She has a bright future and, judging from the reception she received, a national profile.  She is one of our best hopes to get a real grassroots progressive into a legitimate position of power.

more on the flip…

2) Charlie Brown (CA-04) – Charlie has been to all three Netroots Nation events, including the first two when it was known as Yearly Kos.  He is a hero among this community, and he has a lot of support here.  In fact, he proved it with a very well-received appearance at the Lurker’s Caucus.

One of the people attending the caucus was Charlie Brown.  He was there to do what a great many political candidates came to the convention to do — speak to people, press the flesh, make them aware of his campaign and expand awareness.  I was taking a seemingly arbitrary route around the room in calling on people to talk about themselves, and Charlie was one of the first people I called on.

Obviously there was a great interest in him, and there was a lively give and take between the attendants and The Colonel for about 15 minutes.  He cheerfully answered questions and gave us all a good measure of him.

Now, there are a couple of things here that make this moment extraordinary to me.  First of all, the odds were very slight that there were any people in this caucus who were from his home district.  And this was the Lurkers Caucus, a group whose only unifying distinction is that they don’t blog!! But here was Charlie, in a convention filled with bloggers, talking to the very people least likely to blog his appearance. (Yes, I’m blogging it now, but he didn’t know I was going to be there…)

Secondly, after he spoke, we still had about 50 minutes of the caucus and we had resumed moving around the room, giving people opportunities to express themselves.  Now, I know that Charlie was not there to share his lurking experiences.  He was there to campaign.  I fully expected him, and would not have blamed him in the least, to quietly slip out of the room in search of more campaigning opportunities at the convention.  In fact, that’s part of the reason I kind of steered the circuit of speakers to allow him to speak early.  But Charlie stayed for the entire session, listening to people explain why they don’t blog!

It was indicative of the respect Brown has shown for this entire community, from top to bottom, and it’s what’s going to make him a great Congressman from the 4th District.  This is one of the top races in the country from the perspective of the netroots.

3) Debbie Cook (CA-46) – I think Debbie Cook, Annette Taddeo and Alan Grayson were among the most well-received newcomers at the event.  Cook’s passion for environmental and energy issues matched up perfectly with the overriding concerns of the entire conference, which helped a lot.  At the Energy Panel she sat on, along with Alaska Senate candidate Mark Begich and Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley, people in the room told me she was the most impressive.  And Talking Points Memo was similarly taken with Mayor Cook, as can be seen in this interview for the popular site.

Cook switched her flight so she could make the Netroots candidate event on Friday night.  I think she served her candidacy a great deal through this appearance, and considering that in-district donations to her campaign passed 70% in Q2, she has a lot of potential to raise her national profile online.

4) Rocky Delgadillo, LA City Attorney – Delgadillo, who lost to Jerry Brown in a primary for the Attorney General in 2006, appeared on a health care panel that I thought was the most interesting of the entire conference.  I’m going to do a larger story on it, but Delgadillo’s work in this area, rooting out corruption and illegal acitivity among health insurers, was justly recognized.  I didn’t see him walking around the conference.  Here’s a great diary from nyceve at Daily Kos about his efforts.

5) Mike Lumpkin (CA-52) – Calitics actually held an extended breakfast conversation with Lumpkin, running in the open seat created by Duncan Hunter’s retirement.  Here’s a pic:

That’s me, my subpar breakfast, Brian, Mike Lumpkin, and Lucas.  Photo by Matt Lockshin.

I thought Lumpkin was pretty good.  He’s a former Navy SEAL with 20 years of experience in counterinsurgency and command techniques, serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Notably, his plan for Iraq includes a total withdrawal of all forces, leaving no residual troops.  He tends to frame most of the issues in terms of national security, which I guess is to be expected, and he talked about securing the border as well as energy security as two of his major issues on the campaign trail.  Duncan Hunter’s son, also named Duncan Hunter, is his opponent, and in the primary polls revealed that a substantial portion of voters thought they were casting a ballot for the incumbent, so this is not really an open seat in the traditional sense.  Still, this is a race to watch, and I appreciated Lumpkin taking the time to talk with us.

6) Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Mayor – Mayor Newsom walked around the hall on Saturday, showed up at our Calitics/Alternet Books party, and introduced Van Jones on Sunday morning.  Joe Garifoli has a little interview on why he attended:

Newsom is no stranger to online communication. He’s been regularly courting Bay Area bloggers for stories that the uh, ahem, other news poohbahs in town aren’t into. Just this week, he chatted up the city’s wind power project with a handful of local and statewide bloggers. He’s a Daily Kos and Huffington Post regular reader and occasional poster, and he copped to following threads around Facebook. “I really don’t have time to be on there,” he said of the social networking time suck.

“I’m not a convert, I’m one who recognizes the power and extraordinary influence the netroots have. Not just with politics, but it’s about a different interactions with people.” He went to Austin because “I wanted to understand more fully the intensity behind those names. We actually met ‘Bill in Portland Maine.'”

Clearly Newsom was there to build a profile for a statewide run for governor, and I thought that was generally successful.  There seemed to be a buzz around his visit as he walked the halls, and the crowd was receptive to his Sunday morning message, which focused on the environment.  Some were skeptical of the message, and I hope he clarifies his position, but when I spoke with him, I found him very willing to engage on the issues.  I asked about prison policy, one of my hobby horses, and while he wasn’t fully informed on the topic, he expressed a need to drill down and asked me personally to provide him with whatever information I could muster.  You bet I’ll do so, and I respect anyone in politics willing to have a two-way conversation.

7) Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House – You may recall she had a little discussion with some dude on Saturday morning.  That’s been well-covered elsewhere.  Speaking to Pelosi’s staffers, I can tell you that she enjoyed the back and forth and expected MORE of a grilling, which may have been a fault of the organization or the perhaps too-respectful commenters themselves.

8) Russ Warner (CA-26) – This was Russ’ second Netroots Nation, and he did his best to focus on meeting as many people as possible.  I did tend to see him and his campaign staff just about everywhere.  He delivered his passionate message about his son, who was in attendance, at the Netroots candidate event as well.

9) Steve Young (CA-48) – Steve is running for Congress but he’s also a member of the community, and during the California caucus he was as active as anyone in participating in the discussion.  The numbers he’s been showing around on his race suggest there is a real chance here, and I hope he got a lot out of the event.