Logic in short supply at healthcare hearing

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley calls government a "predator" -- so why does he support Medicare?

Published September 29, 2009 6:35PM (EDT)

For today, at least, C-SPAN is must see TV. The Senate Finance Committee is considering two proposed amendments that would add a public, government-run insurance option to the healthcare reform legislation put forward by its chair, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. So far the debate, though lively, hasn't always involved totally logical arguments.

For instance, this morning, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ripped the public option, saying it would be the first step towards a single-payer healthcare system in which Americans would lose the ability to choose their healthcare providers. This argument clearly got to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who introduced one of the public option amendments.

Schumer asked Grassley how he could support Medicare, yet oppose a public option. Grassley responded, “Medicare is part of the social fabric of America ... [but] to say that I support it is not to say that it’s the best program that it can be.” Grassley then went on to lament healthcare's fate if government becomes more involved.

As Medicare is a popular, government-run insurance plan, Schumer pressed his point. "I just don’t understand the difference,” Schumer said. “If Medicare is good and part of the social fabric, that’s a government run plan. The main knock you’ve made on [our amendment] is it’s government-run. Medicare is government-run, and most people like it very much.”

The conversation only became more circular from there, with Grassley saying that a public option would ruin competition. He then called government a "predator." Noticing the contradiction in Grassley's words (not to mention the fact that Grassley is an employee of said "predator" government), Schumer asked, “So you don’t wan’t Medicare?” to which Grassley answered, "I told you that Medicare is part of the social fabric of America."

This simultaneous defense and criticism of Medicare has been a staple in the Republican attack against the public option throughout the healthcare reform debate. Republicans obviously realize that Medicare is popular among America's elderly, but want to avoid touting the benefits of having the government involved in healthcare.

Grassley wasn't the only Senator making tenuous arguments at this morning's hearing. Sen. Mike Ensign, R-Nev. deserves recognition for the day's most convoluted opinion. According to Ensign, it's not fair to compare America's healthcare system to those in Europe unless we remove all gun and car accidents from our healthcare statistics.

"Are you aware that if you take out gun accidents and auto accidents, that the United States actually is better than those other countries?" Ensign asked. "I mean we're just a much more mobile society ... We drive our cars a lot more, they do public transportation. So you have to compare health care system with health care system." Ensign added that we shouldn't count gun deaths because we Americans "like our guns."

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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Chuck Grassley R-iowa Healthcare Reform Jay Rockefeller D-w.va. Max Baucus