If they ever hand out a prize for Hypocritical Freshman Congressperson of the Year, Andy Harris would win first place. In an amazing display of audacity, Harris, a Republican elected Nov. 2 to a Maryland congressional seat on an anti-healthcare reform platform, complained during an orientation meeting about having to wait 28 days before receiving the government-subsidized healthcare plan available to all federal employees. What’s even more incredible, is that Harris is an anesthesiologist. So one would think he would have some empathy for the millions of people who go without insurance much longer than a mere month.
After the Politico story came out, Harris received a much deserved public trashing. He immediately tried to clarify his remarks, claiming he wasn’t talking about himself, but about federal employees in general. Nevertheless, Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley of New York was so incensed by Harris’ cluelessness, and anti-health reform legislators in general, that he is demanding that lawmakers who want to repeal reform should drop their own taxpayer-funded coverage. (So far, two lawmakers have taken Crowley up on his challenge)
When the fight over healthcare reform took center stage in Congress last year, I kept wondering when someone would point out how ironic it is that millions of working-class taxpayers who don’t get health insurance on the job are subsidizing the health care of lawmakers who would deny health coverage to those same taxpayers. I always felt this was one of the most obscene characteristics of our broken healthcare system. Another New York Democrat, Rep. Anthony Weiner, did make an issue of this hypocrisy by identifying on his web site anti-reform legislators who are receiving Medicare.
The question of fairness also came up at a town hall meeting in Iowa, when a member of the audience asked Republican Sen. Charles Grassley why he couldn’t get insurance coverage that’s as good as the Senator’s. Grassley gave a rather flip response, telling the constituent that all he had to do was apply for a government job and then he could get the same coverage. Never mind that not everyone can or wants to work for the government, nor can everyone run for political office.
What is most shameful about Harris, Grassley and other lawmakers like them is that they have a sense of superiority and entitlement that compares with the attitudes of aristocrats from a bygone era. Their job is to serve the citizens, yet they seem to think that their positions of power give them the right to take from the public trough and provide little in return.
Wealth inequality is at its widest than at any time since the Guilded Age of the early 20th century. Barriers to health care has become part of a 21st century class war. Unequal distribution of income begets unequal access to health care. This has a lot to do with the fact that life expectancy among low-income Americans has stagnated while that of the wealthiest Americans has increased.
All federal legislators make a decent living, and many of them are quite wealthy. It is shocking that some of these legislators openly show their disdain for the less fortunate by blocking social benefits like health care, while at the same time having no problem with taking these same benefits for themselves. It is a moral outrage, and the public should no longer tolerate such behavior. Every American deserves the same high quality health care that members of the political class receive, and we should expand Medicare to achieve that.