Ellison: Calling on Joe for health care

By now, the news that our hometown senator, Joe Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party (seriously, that is the name of the party whose ticket he was re-elected on) is threatening to filibuster a bill that includes the public option has completed its spin through the 24-hour news cycle.

Here’s what we know: Lieberman supported something strikingly similar to a public option in 2004 and 2006 but doesn’t support it now. He says it will be too expensive, which doesn’t make sense because it’s cheaper than not having a public option.

After this news broke, the inboxes of many politically active Yale students exploded, quickly filling up with pleas to call his Washington and Connecticut offices.

This strategy has always baffled me. Lieberman presumably already knows that 64 percent of Connecticut voters support the public option — if they all call, will he change his mind?

Having worked on Capitol Hill for a summer, I know one thing it will do; annoy the staffers. There are few things more irritating than having a ton of people call or write in over and over about the same thing.

But if your call is just like everybody else’s, it won’t get noticed. You need to get creative to get your point across.

For instance, you could call and tell the staffer who answers that you have really good news: The inclusion of a public option in the bill actually makes the deficit less than it would be with no public option. So you assume that because the senator cares so much about the deficit, he will now be supporting the public option. Listen as the staffer refuses to respond to what you say but promises to “pass your comments along,” by which he or she means that your comments will definitely not be passed along.

You could ask if the senator is willing to give up his government-administered health insurance.

Or call today saying you support the public option, tomorrow saying you oppose it, the next day saying you support it — if Lieberman can arbitrarily change his mind, why can’t you?

Perhaps, though its not the content of your message that matters, but the frequency with which you call. So call every six seconds — that’s how often someone loses their health care in America. Or try every 12 minutes — that’s how often someone in America dies because they don’t have health care. How about every 30 seconds? That’s how often a family declares bankruptcy because of medical expenses they can’t afford.

Call once today, twice tomorrow, four times the next day, eight times the next days — if nothing is done, health care costs will continue to grow exponentially. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the current system we will spend a quarter of GDP on health care within 15 years. A public option is a key measure to keep costs down.

Call 20 times a day — private insurance companies spend over 20 percent of their money on things other than health care. If they get tired of you, just tell them that if Lieberman supports the public option, you promise not to call more than two or three times a day — Medicare only spends this percentage of its money on things other than health care.

If they continue to bemoan the national debt, threaten to call 700 billion more times. That’s how much the Iraq War has contributed to our national debt; Lieberman wasn’t nearly as concerned about fiscal responsibility when he voted to go to war in 2002.

Here’s the sad truth. Your calls will have no impact. Lieberman either really does oppose the public option for some unknown policy (or non-policy) reason or is bluffing because he wants something from Harry Reid. But here’s what your calls will do: aggravate the 20-somethings who chose to work for him. So call away.

Matthew Ellison is a senior in Branford College.

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