Throw Grassley from the train!

The GOP senator falsely claims Obama "death panels" would "pull the plug on Grandma." Why negotiate with a liar?

Published August 13, 2009 10:18AM (EDT)

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, answers a question from Sheryl Prather during a town meeting on health care reform Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 in Adel, Iowa.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, answers a question from Sheryl Prather during a town meeting on health care reform Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 in Adel, Iowa.

AP Photo/Steve Pope

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, answers a question from Sheryl Prather during a town hall on healthcare reform Wednesday in Adel, Iowa.

I've said this before: It's getting past time for President Obama to spell out specifics about which healthcare reform plan he supports, given the five House and Senate bills and umpteen other proposals circling Washington. And unfortunately for Obama's dreams of bipartisanism, it's way past time for him to give up his hopes that he can bring "sensible" Republicans on board with a smart, fair bill.

I've suspected that was true for a while, but today is the day to, well, pull the plug on that project. Unbelievably, one GOP senator who's been held up as a paragon of reason and bipartisan comity, Iowa's Chuck Grassley -- one of three Republicans negotiating with three Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee -- trashed Obama's plan today in terms that went beyond Sarah Palin's ignorant rant. (I debated Tony Blankley about this on "Hardball"; video at the end of this post.)

"There is some fear because in the House bill, there is counseling for end-of-life," Grassley told a town hall crowd. "And from that standpoint, you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out. And I don't have any problem with things like living wills. But they ought to be done within the family. We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

"You have every right to fear."  What a statesman! Where to start? There are at least five different healthcare reform bills vying for support, and their many provisions can be confusing, but there is not one sentence in any of the five that mandates either "death panels" or "pulling the plug on grandma" -- and Chuck Grassley knows that much much better than I do.

Let's try to take Grassley at face value: that he truly believes end-of-life counseling should take place earlier than the end of life (supposed "liberals" like Lee Siegel and Chuck Lane, cosseted Beltway softies like Grassley, say they agree). Perhaps Chuck and Chuck and Lee were prepared to gather with their team of lawyers, doctors, wives, children and accountants in, say, their 50s or even 60s (rich people live longer, surprise!) to decide on end-of-life/living-will questions. But many families don't have those resources, and they understandably don't get to those questions until they're unfortunately all too pressing and relevant.

It's wonderful that Medicare would pay for such consultations for people without the means to do it earlier under most plans Obama supports. And it's beyond cruel and shameful that a service meant to empower a low- to middle-income Grandma or Grandpa who didn't make prior plans is now being depicted as pulling the plug on her, or him. Grassley and his elitist buddies, liberal or conservative, should be deeply ashamed.

To me the silver lining here is that maybe Obama and Democratic leaders will wake up and realize they have no partners in the GOP on healthcare reform. (Well, that may be too precipitous -- Olympia Snowe? Susan Collins? Please?) Unbelievably, roughly 24 hours before Grassley -- call him Judas -- sold out Obama for 30 pieces of silver from his insurance industry backers, the president named Grassley as one of the reason he continues to negotiate with Republicans, at yesterday's town hall.

I admire Obama's desire for conversation, consultation and, if possible, bipartisan support for his agenda. But it's been clear since early in his term that the GOP marching orders are to thwart him whenever possible. I didn't really think Chuck Grassley would craft a healthcare bill more palatable to me, but I thought possibly he'd help Obama get a bill that would attract some Republican support.

I never cease to amaze myself by my naiveté and unwarranted optimism. I think it's time for Obama to use his political capital to whip the Democrats, including the nippy, yippy selfish and untested Blue Dogs, into shape. If he compromises with the likes of Chuck Grassley after Grassley betrayed him, he can give up the rest of his agenda -- and maybe even a second term. But I trust Obama to know that he's been punked by Grassley, and to act accordingly.


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By Joan Walsh

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