Health care reform in the United States has had a long and contentious history. If I were to say that health care reform in the United States has caused some political conflict, it would be like stating that the Sun is a bit bigger than the Earth — in other words, it’s a vast understatement. Recently organized labor, a major but fading component in the Democratic base, was up in arms over the health care overhaul currently taking place in Washington. Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, told AP that the proposed health care changes would not allow millions of unionized American workers to keep their existing health insurance, instead forcing them to settle for less as employers downgrade or drop existing coverage. In fact, the AP story quotes a labor expert who states that Obamacare (the colloquial name for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) might allow employers to find alternative, less comprehensive coverage for workers.
Unions are now upset with Obama for this perceived turn of face. They shouldn’t be. Despite his socially left tendencies (repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, for instance) President Obama has a history of going against the interests and values of the American left. Organized labor was incensed by the nomination of business executive Penny Pritzker as secretary of commerce. Pritzker, critics charge, has engaged in consistently anti-union behavior during her time at the Hyatt hotel chain. Guantanamo Bay, the infamous American prison where prisoners have been tortured and held indefinitely without trial, remains open. The Obama administration has prosecuted whistleblowers more stringently than any administration before it. Cuts to Social Security also sent the left up in arms. Electronic surveillance by the U.S. government on Americans has reached unprecedented highs under the Obama administration. American drone strikes have killed more than 3,300 people, including four Americans, in a campaign that has left innocent civilians in targeted areas afraid for their lives on a daily basis.
For all the talk of Obamacare’s impact on reducing the number of uninsured Americans, the Congressional Budget Office reported that 10 years of Obamacare would still leave 30 million American uninsured. The National Center for Policy Alternatives, a right-wing think tank, has gone even further and argued that Obamacare will actually lead to eight million more Americans uninsured as more employers drop their coverage of their workers.
Obamacare itself, despite its stated goal to increase the number of insured Americans, has been roundly criticized by both sides of the political spectrum. Chris Hedges, author of Death of the Liberal Class and a well known left-wing author, argues that Obamacare is a bill designed by corporate lobbyists. The Guardian'sGlenn Greenwald has voiced similar concerns. The Tea Party (and the American right at large) is well known for its hatred of Obamacare. In this regard Obamacare is unique in that it has drawn aspects of both sides of the aisle together in their agreement about their dislike of the bill. For that miracle, Obama should be lauded. But organized labor should think long and hard before supporting Obama again, as he has proven he does not always have their interests at heart.