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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

August 16th, 2010 4:20 PM

What Midterms? It’s All About Paying the Bills

Seems hard for elected folks and think tankers and others in the upper crust to imagine or recall, but most Americans aren’t spending a lot of time thinking about the subtleties of political gamesmanship or strategy for the midterm elections. Most Americans are thinking about paying the bills. The insistent bills that never stop – the mortgage or rent, the food, the gas or transport to get to and from work or looking for work, the utilities, the medical insurance or costs. It’s about the bills and staying alive.

Over the past two years, I’ve marveled as I watch folks on every side of the political spectrum and those who see themselves as pristinely distant from the political parties argue passionately about the issues of the day. Wall Street vs. Main Street, some used as a battle cry. Yet millions of this nation’s people are so entrenched is just keeping their financial heads above water that even that distinction aimed at somehow creating the illusion of empathy seems empty and foolish.

Watch the media offer up personal finance experts who act ever so concerned about the unemployment rates and then advise those facing unemployment to use their “emergency funds” carefully and slowly. Laughable. It isn’t that most American workers don’t hear the advice to keep some emergency funds for those sure-to-come rainy days. It is simply impossible for most families to sock away much if any money during such stressful times, much less months of living-expense reserves.

The reality most Americans live with is a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle of necessity filled with worry about getting paid something, anything before the next round of bills come due and then past due. Unemployment benefits provide some relief for some, but in reality few people can support families for long on unemployment benefits. You pay one bill one month, bargain with the other creditors for time and then reverse the process the next month. You juggle. You worry. You splurge on a modest meal somewhere because the family hasn’t gone anywhere for months and then worry about who to short in the next round of bills. You feel guilty. The phone calls are increasingly from creditors reminding you of past due payments and then threatening more collection action as you beg and barter for time.

Then you turn on the news and hear some person from the Tea Party right or some person from the “Professional” left say something perfectly incongruent with any of your reality. The nation’s deficit? It may register as a problem but paying for housing by the first seems a bit more pressing. Health insurance in 2014? Geez, 2014 may as well be 2024 or 2034 or beyond, and how is buying health insurance going to necessarily mean a better outcome instead of just more bills to pay? War? People dead on foreign soil? Awful but many right here don’t see how they’ll stay afloat past next week. Many die here and go unmentioned and uncounted.

Many turn to something else to escape for just a bit. Video games. Television. Sports. Celebrity envy. Drugs. Alcohol. Sex. Anything but the cruel reality of the calendar bearing down on you for the next rent check and the next credit card bill and the next medical visit you cannot afford. It really isn’t much of an escape to listen to politicians and those that follow them talk about the fine points of their preferred policies.

It seems to me a luxury for those with jobs and income or at least a source of personal funds to be fighting the fights in the political arena right now. Perhaps more so than ever before our nation is an unforgiving one in terms of financial success or lack thereof. People are hurting and suffering in silence all over the nation, yet their elected officials act like there is time for an August recess and time for a mid-term election and time for a lame duck Congressional session and time for a pro-life, 2nd amendment mama grizzly and her friends to rise up and protect the right to kill or is it the right to live? They are all out of touch. Right of right, centrist, and left of left.

The reality is that all of the audiences for all of these privileged visionaries (elected ones and unelected ones) are mostly made up of the people who can afford the time and travel and effort to be in any audience and who have had the luxury of time to pay attention to the issues. Most of America is trying to eek out a living – not trying to gather great fame and fortune but just pay the bills and stop the collectors and not have to move again and go to the doctor when they get sick and not feel guilty for spending a dime on something extra along the way.

I support a single-payer, Medicare for all healthcare system because the reality is I was crushed by the for-profit, private health insurance based system – and millions of other people have been or will be crushed in the same way every single day going forward. But I’ve been blessed enough to have the chance to know about and advocate for what I believe because I was lifted enough out of the mess to regain my voice and participate again in the process. Millions and millions of people cannot do that because the daily struggle against this economic mess is too great to overcome – no matter how hard they work.

Do we want more people engaged in this democracy? Sure. Certainly I want a better cross-section of my fellow Americans engaged with me because so long as those who have forgotten what the terror of day-to-day hanging on feels like or those who never knew it at all are the ones controlling the debate on a wide range of issues, we will not have all the best minds and the most creative and spirited minds coming up with the common sense and uncommonly brilliant changes we need going forward. We’ll keep getting the lip service and delayed gratification moves of those who are secure and safe.

I wish one of my elected leaders would say it. Just one. “We need to immediately make sure all Americans have work, housing, food and access to healthcare when they are sick. Now. No excuses. No delays. Then when our people are safe and secure in their homes, we’ll go to work on the deeper, bi-partisanly created systemic issues that are causing this military-medical-industrial complex to be our only focus as a means to greater wealth for the few over the greater welfare of the many. We’ll own our charge from the Constitution to promote and provide for the common welfare.” Then I’d like them to act on that Constitutional responsibility.

That’s what I want. But for now I have to go back to work. The first of September and another round of bills are only 15 days away. Time’s a wastin’.

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