Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Blue Dogs Doggedly Determined to Protect Health Industry: Update on Mike Ross Story

Though Arkansas Congressman Mike Ross has been constantly in the news lately, I haven’t blogged about him since my posting back at the end of July, which noted that the health provider and insurance industries were dumping huge funds into the coffers of blue dog Democrats working to subvert a plan for universal health care in the United States.

I haven’t blogged again about Ross and his role in blocking universal health care coverage because I really don’t have anything new to say about these issues. I find the behavior of the blue dogs vis-à-vis the health care debate (and about human rights issues in general) despicable. If there were viable political alternatives to blue dog Democrats in places like Arkansas, I’d pull the lever in a heartbeat for their opponents.

But as my remarks about Andrew Sullivan’s piece on the new American diaspora a moment ago indicate, we don’t have such clear political options in many cases in our American political context. We have choices between more or less draconian alternatives, neither of which represents an option for a more humane, more human rights-centered society.

And so I often remain silent about stories even in my own back yard, when speaking out seems pointless, when speaking out doesn’t open doors for viable political alternatives. I pass over those stories for ones that engage my passion more, in which there seem to be threads of hope running through an otherwise bleak political landscape.

Fortunately, though, while I’ve been silent, others have been dogging Ross’s steps, and there’s a lot to report about him in recent weeks. Marcus Stern reports at Pro Publica yesterday on an “eye-popping” real estate deal Ross and his wife—who is a pharmacist like Ross—made in 2007 with USA Drug company. The Rosses sold commercial property in tiny Prescott, Arkansas, their hometown, to USA Drug for $420,000—considerably more than its assessed and appraised value.

Other considerations attached to the deal brought Mike and Holly Ross over a million dollars. Two weeks later, Stephen L. Lafrance, owner of USA Drug, dumped $2300 into Mike Ross’s campaign fund.

Ross admitted to reporters early in August that he and other blue dogs held the health care reform bill “hostage in committee” earlier this year—ostensibly to make the bill better. Yet his cozy ties to the pharmaceutical industry, whose representatives have been fighting tooth and nail against health care reform, are undeniable and easily tracked. Stephen Lafrance, to whom Ross sold property at great benefit to himself and his wife, and a donor to Ross’s campaign, is on record stating,

Universal health care will ruin our health care in America. There'll be long lines, they won't be able to get treated, potential doctors will be afraid to go into medical school, there will be an outflux of doctors -- in my opinion. It's not broke and don't fix it.

Blue dog Democrats holding health care reform bills hostage to make them better? I don’t think so. They’re playing the Republican game of trying to block health care reform at all costs. Because they’re beholden to those who benefit economically (and grossly so) from the inequitable, patchy health care delivery system as it now exists.

And even as he fights universal health care coverage, Mike Ross represents a district whose voters are solidly behind a public option (and here). Despite the expressed wishes of his constituents, “Mike Ross is fighting hard for what the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry want,” in the view of Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake.

What has democracy come to mean in these United States, when a clear majority of voters can elect a Democratic president and Democratic Congress who have promised to deliver health care reform that assures universal health care coverage to all citizens—and that Democratic president and the Democratic Congress then ignore the will of the voters and do the bidding of the discredited opposition party? And, of course, above all, do the bidding of the economic lords pulling the political strings in this nation now, no matter which party is in office, and no matter what a majority of voters want . . . .