Insurance companies 'used Tea Party' to try and kill bill

WASHINGTON — Newly minted Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) has watched the health care reform process unfold both as an insider and outsider to Washington. Noting that its future is now in jeopardy, the freshman congressman believes debate should have ended well before he took his oath.

"A mistake was made in the unending negotiations," Garamendi told Raw Story in an interview Wednesday. "Politically, the issue has been, in my view, troubled by the lengthy debate that has taken place here in Washington."

Garamendi, who was sworn in on November 5, 2009 after winning a special election, said the drawn-out process gave Republicans and insurance companies time to successfully undermine the bill by obfuscating the public.

The California congressman referenced President Lyndon Johnson compelling his party during the 1960s Medicare debate to quickly push forward at every step of the process.

"For God sakes, don’t let dead cats stand on your porch," Johnson said, according to the New York Times. "They stunk and they stunk and they stunk. When you get one [of your bills] out of that committee, you call that son of a bitch up before they [the opposition] can get their letters written."

Garamendi paraphrased Johnson's message as: "Get the cat off the porch. The insurance industry will kill it if you leave it there."

"And guess what's happening now?" he added, pointing to the fact that the public insurance option -- which was in itself a compromise from the progressive goal of Medicare-for-all -- was first weakened and then removed from the Senate bill.

A champion of the public option, Garamendi alleged that the provision was ultimately removed to placate opponents of reform, leaving us with a compromised piece of legislation. He also said delays have hurt its very chances for survival.

He said the insurance industry "clearly conducted a very successful public relations campaign to first write the bill in their favor and secondly, to try and kill it," claiming they "used the Tea Party and scared seniors on Medicare services."

"In difficult economic times, there's a great fear of where things are going," Garamendi said, adding that insurance companies and the GOP have "exploited" the Tea Partiers' fears to harm the health care bill.

Garamendi said he believes Democratic leaders should have trounced the GOP's attempts at delay, alleging their intention was to block the bill for political gain.

"There simply comes a time when you say 'this is where we are, you're simply stalling'," he said, adding that Republicans opposed it even after their suggestions were included.

Garamendi claimed Republicans "made a strategic decision early in Obama's presidency to just say no" and obstruct the Democratic agenda.

Republicans, however, insist they have their own legitimate ideas on health reform, and President Obama acknowledged as much in his Q&A session with the House GOP on Friday.

"They will throw up a few balloons that are filled with air and very little substance to provide political cover, but they've made no attempt -- from what I've seen -- to really participate in the development of legislation," Garamendi said.

The prospects for reform now are uncertain as the White House and Democratic leadership have opted to prioritize a new jobs bill and financial reform. Republican Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts also allows the GOP to filibuster any legislation in the Senate.

"I believe that the Democrats in the House will support and vote for significant reform, probably after it has been modified by a majority vote bill in the Senate," Garamendi said.

He predicted the legislation will pass "probably in the next couple of months."