Is there any chance that the UAW strike against General Motors, which began at 11 AM today, will push health care reform to the front burner of this Congress and this Administration?
The issue in this strike is health care. Both sides have already agreed to push health care costs into a special fund, run by the UAW for retirees. The only real question is how much goes into the fund.
The fund is called a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA. It's a tax-advantaged system that caps GM's costs for retiree health care and lays management of the money on the union. Some union members are quite angry about it.
It's a complex deal, which is why negotiations have broken down. Based on what I've seen about the strike on TV so far, don't expect any of this to be understood by the general public.
Instead, all you're going to hear are "health care" and "cost containment" and a lot of other rhetoric about how rising costs must be capped or the economy is going to break down. The labor dispute will be cited as evidence this is occurring.
Is it? Right now about one Americans in six has no health insurance. We're now talking about limiting coverage to the best-organized workers in the country. Of course it is.
Then the question occurs, if the crisis is already upon us, does anyone have the political will to address it? They could.
Nearly every health care plan I've seen from every Presidential campaign is incremental, ranging from funds to let people buy "insurance" for what is an absolute certainty to calls for more private action.
The differences, on the whole, are rhetorical. Many analysts call these plans similar. So why won't anything be done?