As the dust settles from the political explosion that occurred recently with Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), it is important to examine what Specter’s defection means in the fight for healthcare reform. Looking at the Republican Party’s past record on dealing with weighty issues related to public health and safety, it would be safe to predict that it won’t mean much to the Republicans.
Case in point… Kathleen Sebelius, the President’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, was finally confirmed by the Senate only after being held up by Republicans for nearly two months. And it wasn’t just Sebelius who was stonewalled by the GOP. As of this writing, there are still 15 other top positions at HHS awaiting Senate confirmation, along with a director for the Center for Disease Control. You would think that an outbreak of swine flu – one which is suspected of killing 149 people and sickening some 1,600 others in Mexico and which has already killed a 2 year old child in Texas – would encourage the Party of No to say “yes” to confirming the President’s properly vetted public health officials. Right?
Not so fast. Indeed, the HHS and CDC stonewalling from the Republicans is only the latest in a series of political kamikaze moves that demonstrates that the Republican Party seems to be willing to risk public safety – and American lives – to score political points with their (rapidly dimishing) base of supporters.
One of the GOP’s more infamous political games that ultimately ended up costing thousands of American lives began in 1997 with the Gore Commission report. In the wake of the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, President Clinton asked Vice-President Gore to chair a bipartisan commission with the goal of improving air transportation safety. As a result, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, commonly known as “The Gore Commission”, conducted an in-depth analysis of the U.S. commercial airlines’ safeguards against terrorist attacks. In its final report, the Gore Commission concluded, “the Commission believes that terrorist attacks on civil aviation are directed at the United States, and that there should be an ongoing federal commitment to reducing the threats that they pose.” To that end, the Commission proposed over 50 recommendations to improve security and protect America from terrorism. Enter the airline industry, which the year before had given major political contributions to eight of the nine Republicans on the Subcommittee that was in charge of reviewing and implementing the Commission’s regulations. You can guess the rest of the story. The Gore Commission’s recommendations were mocked by conservatives as “alarmist” and “reactionary” and were then promptly ignored. Four years later, on September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 innocent civilians were killed as a result of major breaches in our aviation security grid.
Similar tactics and political game-playing by the GOP have also been a recurring theme in the debate over global warming – another legitimate threat to public safety that Republicans refuse to entirely take seriously. There is a pattern here. A pattern where elected Republican officials obstruct or play political games to appease either their radical supporters (in the case of Sebelius) or their corporate donors (in the case of aviation security and global warming)… even with the threat of mass casualties looming. It is important to keep this pattern in mind as the fight for healthcare reform starts to take shape in the halls of Congress. After all, if the modern Republican Party doesn’t take terrorist attacks, global warming, or a possible pandemic seriously enough to work with their opposition, what do you think they will do in their response to deal with our healthcare crisis?
Get ready for a long, bloody battle over healthcare. Now, more than ever, our elected officials are going to need to hear from us on the need for change. Whether you consider yourself a Democrat, an Independent, or a Republican, it is all of our duty as patriots to make sure that no more lives are lost while a political party tries to score points.