THE PUBLIC EYE:It’s Inequality, Stupid: Defending Affordable Healthcare

By Bob Burnett
Friday November 22, 2013 - 09:23:00 AM

To say the least, the Affordable Care Act is off to a rocky start. Some Democratic congresspeople have been backing away from the law. We can’t let that happen; Progressives can’t let “Obamacare” fail. Affordable healthcare is a key component in our fight against inequality. 

Polls indicate that Americans are most concerned about the economy and jobs. There’s no specific mention of inequality. But a recent Gallup Poll found that only one-third of respondents believed the current distribution of money and wealth is “fair” and 59 percent felt they should be more evenly distributed. Furthermore, 52 percent agreed that the government “should redistribute wealth by heavy taxes on the rich.” Bubbling below the surface of Washington politics is an underground inequality movement. 

President Obama has frequently decried economic inequality. On December 6, 2011, Obama said, 

This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class… Because what's at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, [and] secure their retirement. Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia… they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules. I am here to say they are wrong… I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. These aren't Democratic values or Republican values… They're American values.

The most recent census report indicates the scope of economic inequality, “in 2007, real median family income was 8.3 percent lower than in 2007.” In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007, “After-tax income for the highest-income households grew more than it did for any other group… 275 percent for the top 1 percent of households, 65 percent for the next 19 percent, just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.” 

Progressives promote equality for both ethical and economic reasons. One important policy is the guarantee of a social safety net. A key aspect is affordable healthcare. 

The latest census report indicated that 48 million Americans have no health insurance. One of the key objectives of the Affordable Care Act is to guarantee insurance for those who, today, have none. One of its strategies is to expand families eligible for Medicaid but in 25 states Republicans have blocked coverage leaving 4.8 million poor folks uninsured – far more than those who are affected by insurance companies cancelling substandard policies

At one time, Republicans proposed alternatives to the Affordable Care Act but recently their sole strategy has been to repeal “Obamacare” There’s a lot of media focus on GOP opposition to the Affordable Care Act but not nearly as much to their opposition to other progressive initiatives to reduce inequality. (In the President’s words, Republicans “want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years.”) 

Some see Republican negativism as inherent in their strategy of blocking everything that President Obama supports. But it’s best understood as a reflection of polarization. In their book, Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches, political scientists Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal observed the growing inequality gap widens the political chasm between Republicans and Democrats and “polarization reduces the possibilities for policy changes that would reduce inequality.” 

What’s taking place in Washington is a pitched battle between the “havenots” and the “haves,” between the 99 percent and the one percent. In this struggle, Democrats are trying to defend affordable healthcare and the existing social safety net (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) and expand initiatives such as the minimum wage and food stamps. Republicans are trying to block the Affordable Care Act and make major cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They oppose raising the minimum wage and recently voted to cut food stamp aid. 

In his second inaugural address, President Obama said, “[Americans] understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it. We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.” 

Progressives believe that the true backbone of America is the middle class; not the elite one percent. We believe in a level playing field and government as a force for good. It is the US government rather than corporations or churches that guarantees our human rights. Progressives believe the government must provide a social safety net to protect Americans’ human rights. 

Our core values emphasize empathy, compassion, and fairness. That’s why we must defend Obamacare and the social safety net, in general. 

Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at