Today is the big vote on US Health Care, a moment that has been described as “historic” by President Barack Obama. The Democrats are now confident they have the necessary support to introduce health reforms. Congressman John Larson, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, claimed the party had the 216 votes needed to pass the bill. The debate has raged for more than a year and it has frequently looked as if the bill might collapse. It has taken extensive lobbying by the Democratic leadership and an impassioned plea to Democratic members of Congress by Obama, to allay the fears of some in the party who were reluctant to support the bill, either because of the costs involved, estimated at $940bn (£626bn), or because they objected to possible public funding of abortions.

Health reform had been the centrepiece of Obama’s domestic policy on the campaign trail. The debate has been hugely divisive and embittered right across America, as I witnessed myself after writing a letter about the subject to the Florida Times-Union newspaper in September. All 178 Republicans have promised to vote against the reform in the House, where the Democrats have an overwhelming majority. Passage by the House should ensure the bill will become law. It must return to the Senate this week but the Democrats only require a majority of 51, and have 59 votes in the 100-member chamber.

The bill aims to expand health care to a further 32 million Americans, giving the country 95% health coverage. It would require most Americans to carry insurance, with subsidies for those who can’t afford it, expand the government-run Medicaid programme for the poor, and create new marketplaces where small businesses and self-employed people can pool together to buy cheaper health care. However an amendment to allow a public or single-payer option was not included despite being passed in an earlier debate.

Most newscasters and commentators have focused on the opposition to the bill in terms of the views of the Republican Party or anti-establishment Tea Party movement that share fears of the hand of “Big Government” making unwelcome intrusions into the private lives of individuals and leaving a massive debt which must be paid off by future generations by tax increases. A conversation with a cashier at a local supermarket in Jacksonville Beach two days ago echoed this view. While chatting at the check-out she revealed she was unhappy with the health vote that was about to take place because it would make the US system more like the UK or Canada, and she told me ” I don’t want my grandmother being refused treatment because it cost too much”. I expressed my view that having experienced both American health care and the NHS, the British system was better. She disagreed. However I would have been more accurate to say that the Obama reforms would not create a system which matched the NHS.

Indeed there is a whole side of the argument that seems to have been ignored or at least been given little coverage. There are critics of the reforms that believe the proposed bill does not go far enough. Organisations like the Physicians for a National Health Program, Health Care Now!, and the Green Party of America , all favour a single payer or public option that would be more in line with the British NHS. While making health care available to many more Americans, Obama’s reforms have been drafted with considerable help from the insurance industry, will not make health care universal, and will not introduce a “not-for-profit” system. Nor will the reforms remove the obligation to employers to provide health care, an additional cost that could affect competitiveness with firms from countries that have universal health systems.

The status quo is unacceptable. Millions of uninsured and under insured Americans is a disgraceful state of affairs. Obama’s reforms attempt to address that situation and is maybe the best that can be expected given the nature of America’s political system and the millions spent by lobbyists on adverts attempting to preserve the current health system. However as “historic” as the vote may prove to be, it feels like a missed opportunity, and does not deliver what is really needed to improve the health care of ordinary working class Americans. I cannot help but feel disappointed. Change we can believe in? Not yet.

[Based on a report by The Observer]

I suppose as a Green I should be supporting Green candidate Cynthia McKinney or Independent and environmentalist Ralph Nader in the US Presidential Election. However I am also a pragmatist and I realise that this is a two horse race between Democrat and Republican.

Senator McCain once impressed me in an interview many months ago before he had even entered his nomination. He seemed a reasonable man with principles unafraid to stand up against the ill deeds of the Bush Administration. However as this campaign has gone on, the vile side of Republican politics have appeared, using smear and deceit instead of forceful argument about policy. Any notion of putting “country first” went out of the window with the appointment of the horrendous Sarah Palin as running mate. This clearly was to help a flagging party and rightfully has made many people question McCain’s judgement. For me the Republican Party now represents narrow minded bigotry, the privileged, and corporate interests of America. It has little to offer the vast majority of Americans and hopefully voting Americans are waking up to that fact.

On the other hand while no means perfect, Senator Obama represents hope to the marginalised in US society, and the record registration levels show that rather than resigning themselves to their lot, many Americans now are engaging in a political process they feel might deliver them better opportunities. I read Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” a few months ago. Obama’s plans for health care, education, green jobs, and a foreign policy based on diplomacy not unnecessary force, offer real measures to combat America’s difficulties, while for me showing a better analysis and understanding of what America and the world now faces. McCain is a man of the past, Obama is a man for the future, and that’s why I hope he becomes 44th President of the USA.

Obama was in Jacksonville Florida yesterday on the final day of campaigning before Election Day. Tina was in the crowd and kindly provides these pictures.

Obama in Jacksonville 3rd Nov
Obama in Jacksonville 3rd November

Obama in Jax - Florida for Change
The crowd shows Florida wants change at the Obama rally in Jacksonville 3rd November
[c] CrazyHair Productions

Day One of the Road Trip and it goes to show meticulous planning doesn’t always bring results. All seemed well this morning as bags were packed, Google maps were printed off and the rental car (a Ford Focus for the record) was successfully collected from the Enterprise manager who was rushing around like the proverbial, and sweating bricks as a result. Even a brief thunderstorm and soaking didn’t dampen spirits as the sun came out again before we were due to set off following Tina’s return from work.

Yet somehow the intended departure of around 2pm somehow drifted to way past 3pm. Then getting out of Jacksonville proved more involved than expected. Eventually we did reach the University city of Gainesville, our intended rest stop, although finding Lake Alice added to the time delay thanks to me trying to drive, read a map, and negotiate large junctions simultaneously. However the exercise was ultimately in vain as there was nowhere to park to view the lake. Well not strictly true, there were places to park if you had a special permit. Obviously you can’t visit “on spec”. Indeed closer inspection of the Rough Guide revealed the need to park 2 miles away downtown and walk. So what brief glimpses we saw of the lake seemed very pleasant as we repeatedly trundled past at 20 mph, but we could not get on the observation points to look for alligators. The closest we got was seeing the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, home of the University of Florida Gators football team.

When you reach a junction and it says US19 to the left and that’s the road you want you expect to turn left so I did. Ah but not over here. No I should have proceeded a hundred yards or so further straight on and then turned left. Silly me. So a pretty, yet deserted detour through some decidedly hick settlements where the Confederate cause apparently still burns strong, eventually led us to the desired US19 South, a desperately needed toilet stop, and the town of Inglis. But it was worth the detour to spot the streetname of Follow that dream Parkway. Frightening but true.

Thankfully Crystal River wasn’t that far down the road after that and we were soon in our room at the Comfort Inn some while after my intended arrival time. I clearly still have a lot to learn from the Owd Mon. He’d have been there enjoying his marmalade butties long before then. We in fact dined in style on microwaved veggie curry purchased from a supermarket in the town, watching the Larry King Show on CNN where a lively debate about McCain v Obama was taking place. But the highlight of a day that did not go to plan was a moonlight swim in the motel pool, under the stars listening to the crickets’ and frogs’ night chorus. That’s living the dream never mind following it.

05. June 2008 · 1 comment · Categories: Politics · Tags: , , ,

So it’s Obama then. Something over the last few weeks everyone but Clinton seemed to accept. Personally I’m pleased. When I was in Florida in April I bought Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope” and finished it two days before his final victory. He is clearly an intelligent and articulate man who writes as well as he performs at the lectern. That said I was rather disappointed with the first hundred or so pages. I found it wishy-washy, fence-sitting stuff, desperate not offend anyone or any side, complementary rather than critical of some of his Republican opponents. It also gave a worrying description of US politics and the importance of financial backing to succeed in what they term a democracy.

These first few chapters reminded me very much of Tony Blair’s approach in some respects. Blair was not in my opinion a conviction politician guided by an overarching philosophy or doctrine. He was more of a manager figure who would use practical and pragmatic methods to achieve what he thought was right for the country even though in many cases observers like myself felt it lacked substance and too often departed the principles of his party’s core belief system. Blair would draw in members of the Opposition to key committees to help smooth decision making, and could be accused of cherry picking some of the Opposition’s ideas for Government policy. Charisma, drive and vision were the key to Blair’s three General Election victories, and while Gordon Brown might have an approach more rooted in a political philosophy, I think he lacks those three qualities which made Blair a successful Prime Minister, contributing to the current woes at No10.

Obama shares this charisma, drive and vision. I think from reading the rest of the book he also does have a underpinning belief system that fights for the underprivileged, the ordinary Joe, and actually all Americans. The second half of the book goes on to analyse America’s problems and describe sensible policies that might actually make a difference. The choices in many cases are not hard and finance exists to put them in place. What needs to change is the political will. I found myself willing him to succeed and it was a breath of fresh air from what we have had for the last eight years. The other evening John Snow on Channel 4 News said to a Republican advisor that if the world had a vote it would be voting for Obama. I think he is right. Outside of the USA we see Obama as not only a refreshing change, but someone who might restore America’s world standing. It is now down to the American people to make their decision. The next President of the USA will make history whoever wins, but is the one that will make a real difference that I’d like to see elected. Given that the USA elected George W Bush twice fills me with despondency and makes me wary of expecting an Obama victory. But Obama gives me hope. Obama is by no means a radical, but to me he symbolises a radical change and that’s the important matter. I hope that Americans sense that too and have the courage to vote for Obama as President.

There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and an Asian America – there’s the United States of America”. Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention 2004.

As Obama relays in his book, he wishes for an America that fulfils Dr Martin Luther King’s promised that we be judged not by the colour of our skin but the content of our character. If America can embrace that concept and extend it beyond their boundaries, the world will be a much better place.