An open communiqué for Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick:
On Halloween day last year, in an interview with University of Idaho's KUOI radio in Moscow, you scolded your opponent for voting against expanding the State Children's Health Insurance Program, saying, incredulously, "Who could be opposed to providing health care to single moms who don't have jobs?"
Bill Sali said we couldn't afford it and voted against it—four times.
You said, "There are some places this country has to invest," and called the votes shortsighted.
You went on to describe your own traumatic health care experience with your young son and on finding yourself facing $600,000 in medical bills to save his life, said:
My company had excellent health insurance and my wife and I only had to pay a few thousand dollars of that, but if we hadn't had that insurance, even though I was running a company, I would have been personally bankrupt.
Every American should have comprehensive, affordable health insurance so that a medical disaster doesn't force them to lose their home, lose all of their retirement and lose everything they've built in their lifetime.
Congressman Minnick, I'd like to introduce you to Tom and Karen. They are third-generation wheat farmers on the Palouse. They are among the 138,000 living in your district who don't have health insurance. Karen hasn't been to the doctor in 13 years; the last time Tom saw a doctor was when a cow stepped on his hand, eventually deciding as blood poured from his mangled finger that an infection from the bacteria-laden manure was something they couldn't treat at home. Despite medical advice otherwise, he didn't stay overnight. They couldn't afford it. They have a young son who has never been to the dentist.
Well, let's let them finish telling their story:
Congressman Minnick, no one, including you, expected health care reform to be easy. But as you and the KUOI host mused about just how difficult it would be, with an eerie prescience befitting the day, you hoped it could be achieved before it became a "political football."
Hard-working Idahoans like Tom and Karen sent you to Washington because you gave them hope. Hope that you could and would convince their country to see them as an investment. People of the 1st District had enough of the rigid ideology that told them they weren't worth the price and sent you to represent them instead. They didn't expect to get a more finely honed rigid ideologist. They didn't expect, nor did they deserve to get their lives turned into political footballs—least of all by you.
Yet that is exactly what you've done. You joined the chorus of townhall crazies and fear mongering ideologues who turned Tom and Karen and every other Idahoan who can't afford medical care into political footballs.
Instead of coming home and working to convince Idahoans that they had nothing to fear and much to gain from health care reform (something many of us were prepared to help you do), you and your advisors (with their legendarily acute grasp of messaging) sent out misinformation-laden press-releases playing up the fears of Idahoans using triggers like "socialized medicine," "big government" and "raising taxes."
Instead of embracing a public option for what it is—an option that would reduce costs by pressuring private insurers to compete alongside government coverage; that would actually save $150 billion over the next ten years, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates—you ridiculed it as "socialized medicine," calling it a big government takeover that would kill private insurance. Far from killing private insurance, according to CBO estimates the current House bill would actually increase the number of Americans covered under private employer-based policies by about 3 million.
Instead of reassuring Idahoans that to make these proposed reforms that, while imperfect, give 97 percent of Americans health insurance, only 6,000 of them (3,000 in the 1st District) would be asked to pay a little more in taxes (that's one percent for individuals making above $280,000 and married couples making more than $350,000), you resorted to fueling fears with the pavlovian specter of "raising taxes." I suppose raising taxes on yourself and your well-heeled friends is counterintuitive but how else do you propose to pay for reform, Mr. Minnick, as you so often lament that the current bill estimates do not?
When you have anywhere from $220,000 to $650,000 personally invested in health related businesses (among those spending $1.4 million a day in lobbying so far this year); when you have taken over $126,000 in campaign contributions from health related industry (over $52,000 so far this cycle according to the Center for Responsive Politics and refuse to say no to more); and when you, until eight months ago sat on the board of Primary Health, Inc., can you blame Idahoans who are having to choose between medical care and food for wondering exactly whose interests you are representing? Can you blame people for being skeptical that you are looking out for them—for even being angry at having become your political football?
You say, meekly, that you want health care reform but your actions belie your words. The health care reform principles that you support look an awful lot like the status quo on steroids. Forcing Idahoans to buy insurance but offering them only the crappy policies from your campaign donors and business interests feels an awful lot like mandating that everyone buy a Yugo and cheerfully offering taxpayer money to help any who can't afford it and pocketing the proceeds. You say that increased government regulation will make these crappy policies palatable and affordable but the banking industry, the credit card industry and the mortgage industry were all supposed to be government regulated, too. That didn't make them safe; when regulation got watered down, they did too.
As pointed out in Congressional Quarterly, over the last decade health insurance costs have increased at three times the rate of wages. At these rates, even those who have insurance will soon no longer be able to afford the premiums. A family of three making $55,000 a year (more than the average wage in Idaho) are spending nearly a quarter of their income on insurance premiums. People can't wait. In our unconscionable health care lottery system, those lucky enough to have insurance and those unlucky souls who don't were counting on you. We were all counting on you to make the investment in us.
Four days after that Halloween interview you became Congressman-elect Walt Minnick . . . well, technically five if you count the late-night vote tallying that finally determined your slim victory.
On that fifth day, embattled but euphoric Idaho Democrats gathered on the steps of the Capitol Annex in Boise for a press conference celebrating a campaign season that produced victories large and small: a stunningly large turnout on short notice to see then-candidate Obama, record numbers turning up at Democratic caucuses, a new Democratic president, state legislative wins and, the icing on the Democrat's cake, your victory over Bill Sali in the 1st Congressional District.
While Idaho Democrats publicly celebrated, you were conspicuously absent. Your wife A.K. and your son were there. It was said you were busy.
It wasn't the first time Idaho Democrats were left holding your purse while you careened off on your own Magoo-ian path.
Sadly, it wasn't your last.
Idaho Democrats didn't expect you to roar like a liberal lion but they and all Idahoans deserve more than this type of lion made famous while gracing the big screen in The Wizard of Oz.