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Why Howard Dean Hates Bernie Sanders’ Health Care Plan

Howard Dean MD, the one-time “insurgent” candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, has since lodged himself deep inside the sinister Washington establishment. Now an employee for a health care lobbying firm and an unabashed cheerleader for Hillary’s lusterless campaign, Dean has come out guns blazing against Bernie Sanders’ call for single-payer health care, ie Medicare for all. But should we be surprised? The answer is no, we shouldn’t be startled in the least. For starters, the former Vermont governor has a lengthy track record of opposing Medicare and has even defended Bill Clinton’s disastrous welfare reform (so has Hillary), which forced single-mothers into slave wage jobs and legions of black and Latino kids into poverty. Dean and his fellow Vermonter Bernie Sanders have little in common.

During the 1990s, Dean levied restrictions for Vermont Medicare recipients under the guise of fiscal responsibility. According to The San Francisco Chronicle and the Associated Press, Dean claimed in 1993 that: “Medicare is the best argument I know why the federal government should never be allowed to run a national health care system.” He was later quoted as saying, “I think [Medicare is] one of the worst federal programs ever.”

His statements put him squarely to the right, not just of progressives on this issue, but of the majority of Americans who favor a national health care system like Canada’s.

During the heated primary race, Dean’s opponents pointed out that as governor, he supported Gingrich’s plans to make senior citizens pay more and strip Medicare funding by up to $270 billion. As Dean said at the time: “I can tell you that the bureaucracy [is] associated with capitulated care … far less than it is, for example, associated with Medicare, which is, from my point of view, a bureaucratic nightmare.”

Dean also said, “I agree with [South Carolina Republican Gov.] Carroll Campbell when he says the federal government ought not to be allowed to administer a national health care program. They’ve already [proven] that they can’t do that in a national health care program for those over 65, which is Medicare.”

And according to a May 1992 Rutland Herald article, “As he has in the past, Dean stressed that the states must move ahead of the federal government in reforming health care. Medicare, which turns its recipients into ‘second class citizens’ and has been a fiasco for health care providers, is ‘the best advertisement’ for why the federal government must not be allowed to draw up the blueprint for national health insurance.”

When it came time to balance his budget or eliminate the deficit, Dean often regarded these types of social programs as secondary concerns. Of course, when Dean was criticized for his Medicare quotes from the 1990s during the primary debates, he retreated, insisting, “I spent 13 years of my life with senior citizens, and I can promise you that as president of the United States [I will ensure] not only [that] Medicare [will] not be cut but every senior citizen will have adequate health care. Medicare will be shored up, and every senior citizen will have a prescription benefit. I spent 13 years of my life doing this and I am not going to let us backslide now.”

Not surprisingly, this move was a hallmark act in Dean theatrics, as the presidential candidate consistently shifted his policy stance on a number of issues, including international trade, pre-emptive war, gay rights, and the death penalty, among others.

The good governor was also an adamant supporter of welfare reform. Jim Farrel wrote in a May 2003 issue of The Nation, Dean has “said some welfare recipients ‘don’t have any self-esteem. If they did, they’d be working’ and scaled back Vermont’s welfare program, reducing cash benefits and imposing strict time limits on single mothers receiving welfare assistance.”

Dean recognized the dangers of creating new jobs under Vermont’s welfare program. As he explained, “What we do that’s different is we don’t cut off all benefits; we cut off cash benefits, which means people don’t get kicked out in the street.” And in a 2001 Associated Press article, Dean surmised, “The biggest danger in this is people won’t be able to find a job. If you can’t find a job in our system you can continue to get your grant if you work in a public nonprofit or a private nonprofit job.” Nonetheless, his support for Clinton’s Federal program and Vermont’s welfare program never waned.

Author and syndicated columnist Norman Solomon criticized Dean’s welfare reform record in late 2003, writing, “While some other Democrats angrily opposed Clinton’s welfare reform, it won avid support from Dean. ‘Liberals like Marian Wright Edelman are wrong,’ [Dean] insisted. ‘The bill is strong on work, time limits assistance, and provides adequate protection for children.’ Dean co-signed a letter to Clinton calling the measure ‘a real step forward.’”

Though we now know that welfare reform was really a step backwards, hindsight is always 20/20. But even hindsight couldn’t offer perfect vision for Dean, who never saw through the lies. On National Public Radio (NPR) in July 2003, he commended the Clinton administration’s outlandish welfare policy, arguing that “What Bill Clinton did was appropriate … let’s not forget that Bill Clinton ran on bringing health insurance to every single American and balancing the budget, really somewhat similar to the platform that I run on, and he won.” But as a political nubile, Dean should have been reminded that, thanks to the president’s fiscal stringency, Clinton’s platform failed most poor Americans. Would Dean’s platform have failed them as well?

Indeed.

“I think welfare reform has been an incredibly positive force,” Dean raved in an interview with the online journal Liberal Oasis, “Vermont was the first state in the nation to institute welfare reform, and we’ve had great success with it.”

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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book, co-authored with Jeffrey St. Clair, is Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

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