Krugman: Why The Health Care Battle Is Key

Isaiah J. Poole

Paul Krugman, the columnist for The New York Times, told me in an interview here in Denver that getting a universal health care plan enacted will be one of he most important keys to creating a progressive moment on a whole host of issues.

His reasoning is this: “If you can get universal health care or something close to it in, however imperfect, then the country will never be the same again. It will be something that is an untouchable, and it will make people just understand once again that government can do things to make the society fairer, safer.”

Krugman calls himself a single-payer advocate, but he says he supports a proposal along the lines of the Health Care for America Now plan because “I want something that you can get into legislation fast.”

One of the barriers health care reform will have to overcome is the fear among the public that they would lose access to quality care under a radically changed system. If you can tell people that they can keep the insurance they have now, but they have the option of enrolling in a Medicare-type system that would provide universal coverage without regard to pre-existing conditions, more of the public would be prepared to get behind it.

Krugman’s prediction is that a united progressive movement could get a Health Care for America Now-style plan could get enacted by the fall of 2009 “by not being a purist.”

“One of the things that the Republicans have been good at is thinking a step ahead, playing the log game, setting things up,” Krugman continued. For those who believe that government “is the problem,” as Ronald Reagan famously stated, the strategy was to “starve the beast; deprive the government of revenue so it can’t do staff later on.

The other strategy was to take power away from the union movement, which Reagan began doing during his term. “Unions raise wages, but they also shift the political balance The destruction of the union movement in the 1980s, which was largely a Ronald Reagan thing, did not just undercut the workers’ bargaining power, but it also undercut their political power.”

That is why Krugman agrees that passing the Employee Free Choice Act is critical to the future of progressive politics.

“That is a big enough agenda to keep a Democratic Congress and President busy for a couple of years,”

Krugman says that the kind of presidential candidate that is needed over the next two months in order for progressives to be in a position to have an ally in the White House is one who is espousing “a clear progressive agenda.”

“Bill Cinton in 1992 had this very simple thing: The hard-working people, the people who played by the rules, who try to do it right, get cheated. He had a phrase about people who cut corners and cut deals. And we need to hear that. I think the theory that a broad, post-partisan appeal could lead to a transformative victory appears to have been refuted.”

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