Confessions of a Job-Creator

I am a public-sector employee, a professor at a state university, a member of a labor union. The work I do has been described by a presidential candidate as “indoctrination.” I subscribe to the New York Times, I’m a member of the ACLU, I support my NPR member station, and I drive a foreign car. I supported President Obama’s campaign in 2008 after voting proudly for Hillary Clinton in the primary, and I am supporting him again this year.

In other words, some people think I represent a lot of what is wrong with this country.

But here is something they don’t know about me:

I am a job creator.

Some people think they know some things about us job creators. The guy whose job it is supposed to be to represent me in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who has of course been featured before on these pages, thinks he knows some things about us job creators. He sent me an email the other day, like he likes to do sometimes, to make sure I didn’t miss his latest op-ed, which ran August 30 in his favorite small-town, low-circulation weekly, which apparently lets him publish whatever disingenuous propaganda he thinks his corporate overlords might want to read. The title of his latest is “Survey Highlights Top Concerns of U.S. Job Creators,” and you can read it in its entirety here.

For openers, Rep. Upton observes that “small business owners continue to lead the way for our economic recovery here in Michigan and throughout the United States.” He adds that “They not only embody the entrepreneurial spirit of our free market economy, but play a vitally important role when it comes to job creation, innovation, and local growth.”

It’s true. The stopped clock is right this time. Not to worry, though. It doesn’t last. The rest of the column is more of the usual BS we have come to expect from Rep. Upton, God love him. His response to concerns about energy costs cited by the “job creators” in the survey is to go on about some ditch-digging jobs that he says will save the U.S. economy. He addresses concerns about healthcare costs by announcing that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) hurts small businesses because it “does nothing to actually address the cost side of the equation.”

You’d think a member of Congress who spends so much time obsessing about health care in general and the ACA in particular would be aware of factual information about legislation that passed his chamber while he was in office, such as that the ACA contains no requirement that actual small businesses (as in the kind with 50 or fewer employees) provide insurance for their employees, that it includes no penalty for those who decline to do so, and that it actually offers incentives in the form of tax credits for small businesses who opt (yes opt, as in do something voluntarily) to provide coverage for their employees. You’d think Rep. Upton would know about that. [1]

And you are probably as surprised as I am to learn that the generous flow of profits to the job-creating healthcare industry, i.e. the “cost side of the equation,” which as Rep. Upton rightly notes, the ACA unfortunately does little to correct, is somehow not something that he can get behind. As Richard S. Levick put it in an article in Fast Company in July, “5 Ways Insurers Can Position Themselves To Win Under The ACA“:

It’s not every day that an industry has as many as 46 million new customers delivered to its doorstep. But when the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the controversial individual mandate last week, that’s precisely what happened for health insurance companies across the country.

Somehow this is not good enough for Rep. Upton, whose congressional career functions effectively as a wholly owned subsidiary of the industry?

OK, I exaggerate. “Wholly owned” probably isn’t fair. I mean, it isn’t fair to the oil and gaselectric utilities, and mining industries who are also major stakeholders in the Upton enterprise.

But we were talking about job creators, weren’t we? All right. Here’s my story:

In 2007, I invested $23,000 in a small-business start-up. That was all the money I had in the world. It was actually more than all the money I had in the world, because $15,000 of it was a cash advance I took out on my Visa card, which because it was 2007 I could do at a rate of 3.9%. The business was an automotive repair shop that Mr. Alevei was starting. He would run the business and fix the cars. I would keep my day job, help with the books, and do some web design. There was no question in my mind but that this would be a good investment. (Spoiler alert: It has been.)

Once Mr. Alevei decided to go for it, we got to work on researching and writing his business plan, looking for a location for what would be his new shop, and trying to figure out how we were going to pay for everything that needed to happen to get him up and running. Writing the business plan was a project that turned out to be an excellent fit for many of the skills I have acquired over the years, not in business but in academia. A business plan is like scholarly research. It makes an argument and supports it with evidence. It requires a ton of research and a compelling narrative. Basic English-major stuff. It has to make the case to lenders and other potential investors that the proposed business will be a solid investment.

In order to make our case, we had to conduct a market analysis, develop viable sales and marketing strategies, articulate both a mission and a vision (not the same thing, it turns out), analyze our position in relation to the shops and dealerships who would be our competitors, develop and articulate a brand identity, and of course spell out our projected start-up costs, operating costs, and revenue assumptions, all of which then had to be connected to the overall market and presented – and justified – in excruciating and itemized detail. Our start-up costs included things like capital purchases (the equipment and supplies Mr. Alevei would need to start working on cars initially and projections for additional capital investments over time), real estate costs, insurance, permits and inspections, and personnel, although at the beginning it was just Mr. Alevei on the clock something like 80 hours a week and me making a hash of the books on Saturdays.

I handled a lot of the research and analysis and wrote the narrative. Mr. Alevei created the spreadsheets that outlined our cost and revenue assumptions and projections, producing multiple versions that explored and applied several possible cost and revenue permutations and contingencies and made predictions about cashflow and about profit and loss through the first twelve months. He drew up balance sheets and we prepared personal financial statements. We estimated labor costs, average sales, profit margins for parts, taxes and fees. I was happier to be finished with the business plan than I was when I finished my doctoral dissertation five years earlier.

In other words, we totally built that.

And in the process, we were very fortunate to have access to quite a few publicly funded resources, including our local library, which offers seminars and mentoring opportunities for people interested in starting new businesses and also has a large collection of relevant books and other media. Mr. Alevei took a course on business planning and was in every way the brains behind our many spreadsheets. We met with a mentor from SCORE, a nonprofit association funded by the Small Business Administration to support entrepreneurship. On a completely volunteer basis, our SCORE mentor took the time read our business plan and give us feedback.

Our biggest break of all came in the summer of 2007, when Mr. Alevei called the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC), which is also supported by federal (SBA) funding to help new and growing businesses. The MI-SBTDC set us up with a mentor, although guardian angel might be a better description. Our mentor provided numerous hours of hands-on support, including extensive assistance as Mr. Alevei wrangled with those spreadsheets, as well as moral support, helping to keep our spirits up during some difficult times, such as when we were worried that we would not get financing, could not find an appropriate and affordable location for the shop, did not see how we were ever going to be able to make it happen. That mentor has become a dear and beloved friend, and he is still an invaluable source of knowledge and support to Mr. Alevei. All the services and support he provided to us were available at zero cost to us.

So yeah, we built it. But we did not do it by ourselves. We couldn’t have.

Mr. Alevei opened his shop on November 1, 2007. We are really looking forward to celebrating his five years in business two months from now. I could not be more proud of Mr. Alevei, who over the past five years has worked until 2 a.m. more times than I can count, sometimes coming home and sleeping only three hours before getting up to do it all over again. He deserves all the credit for the thriving and still-growing business he has built. No one could have worked harder or been smarter, more resourceful, or more determined. And today, in addition to himself, he also employs two full-time technicians, a full-time service manager, a part-time accountant, and a part-time support staffer.

Mr. Alevei created those jobs. And as he would be the first to agree, so did I.

Yes, my $23,000 investment in the company is part of it (an investment that has been paid back in full, by the way), and my work on that excruciating business plan is too. And yes, there was also the labor I contributed for the first six months, when I kept the books. Sure, I did this work badly, but I would point out here that (a.) I did it badly for free, and (b.) sucking at it made the it even more difficult and unpleasant. (On the plus side, the experience was heartening for me in its clear affirmation of my decision at age 18 not to major in accounting.)

But here’s the part they really don’t teach you in school or anywhere else when you’re trying to start a business (and I mean the kind business that requires significant outlays of capital, the kind that really does create jobs): Even if you are ridiculously fortunate and your business does well right out of the gate (alevei!), it is still almost certainly going to take some time before it generates enough profit for you to take home a paycheck at all, let alone before you can take home a paycheck that’s anywhere near enough to live on. So if you don’t have a lot of savings that you can live on and that somehow does not have to go into the business, or if you can’t get the kind of business loan and line of credit (which Mr. Alevei and I can tell you can be very hard to get at start-up) that makes it possible for you to survive for as long as it takes for the business to establish itself and start earning you a living, you’re going to be looking at the possibility of some very hard times. [2]

And so it is the case that sometimes even businesses that are doing OK, even businesses that are doing well, don’t make it. They don’t make it for no other reason than that their owners aren’t making it. It’s not because they aren’t working hard enough and it doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t doing it right. But if an individual’s livelihood or a family’s livelihood has to be staked entirely on the business, it is going to be very, very difficult for the individual or the family to buy itself the time that any new business is going to need to start making a living for anyone.

And that’s where this New York Times-subscribing, NPR-listening, Hillary Clinton-loving, foreign-car-driving, Obama-supporting, state employee public sector union professor comes in.

Because it was my paycheck (the one some people don’t think I deserve) and my health insurance (which some people criticize as overly generous) that made it possible for my family to keep a roof over our heads, food on our table, and clothes on our backs (not to mention keeping the student-loan kneecap-busting brigade away from our door while I kept up the outrageous monthly payments that will add up to triple what I borrowed before it’s all over).

It was my paycheck – my below-market state employee’s paycheck – that bought the shop the time it needed, bought Mr. Alevei and me the time we needed so that he could have the chance to put everything he had into making his business the success it is today. There is simply no way that we could have survived long enough without my paycheck for the shop to succeed and to create those five good-paying, secure jobs that did not exist in 2007. And even with this level of success, I still could not possibly consider quitting my day job any time soon.

So let’s hear it for the job-creators, all of them, not just those lucky few who are well connected and/or amply capitalized and/or create jobs only if they absolutely have to and/or don’t actually create any jobs, not just the “job creators” who really do seem to believe that they built that all by themselves.

And anyone who thinks that state employees are a drain on the system, that we don’t deserve the middle-class existence we are fortunate to enjoy (for the time being, anyway), that our belowmarket salaries are still somehow a bad investment of public funds should know this: The percentage of state university budgets that actually comes from state appropriations is at an all-time low nationwide as state legislatures increasingly divert public money away from public education.

So, not only did I work my ass off for those (semi-)state-funded paychecks in a demanding full-time job that I am actually pretty damn good at, but the contributions to actual, tangible job creation that this public-sector union-member has made have not depended on any government grants or loans or contracts. This is in contrast to every single “I built that” bullshit artist who took the stage at the Republican National Convention last week to support Mitt Romney‘s campaign and proclaim their self-righteous, rugged-individualist, free-market, all-by-myself bootstrap delusions to anyone delusional enough to fall for them.

Rep. Upton concludes his op-ed thusly:

A responsible general would never lead an army into battle without the weapons and resources needed for victory.  In the fight for our economic recovery, we can no less give our employers the certainty and resources they need to succeed.

I wonder if he is talking about “employers” like Mr. Alevei and me. But given that the federal tax rate we pay here in the Alevei household is twice the “job creator” rate that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he pays, and I don’t see Rep. Upton, his party, or their presidential nominee making a case that Mr. Alevei and I deserve a big tax break or really any kind of break at all, I have to say I doubt it.


Notes:

[1] See “Employer Responsibility Under the Affordable Care Act,” an analysis and report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You might as well take a look at it, because there’s a good chance that your House representative hasn’t.

[2] And don’t forget that you are somehow going to have to start making the payments on those loans and lines of credit right out of the gate. And so although it left us pretty significantly undercapitalized, we ultimately decided against taking out a start-up loan or line of credit, and instead decided to make a go of it on my $15,000 cash advance, Mr. Alevei’s cashed-in 401K, and $8,000 that I inherited from my grandma, for the following reasons:

a. No bank would consider lending us less than $40,000 and most preferred to make loans larger than even that.

b. The interest rates quoted to us even during those pre-crash halcyon days of summer 2007 were astronomical – double digits. Those were the rates reserved for people like us, i.e. people without a lot of savings or family money, just starting out in business.

c. Repayment of the start-up loan would be tied to the length of our commercial property lease, which was three years.

d. The monthly payment on a $40,000 loan at 12% to be paid back within three years was more than our monthly mortgage payment. A lot more. We knew there would be no way we could possibly make those payments, living as we would be on a single paycheck.

Upton update and more on ACA

Here’s the reply I received from Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) to the letter I sent to him on July 6 (discussed here):

Detail of handwritten note:


“My healthcare (Blue Cross) is the same as any other federal employee.”

According to FactCheck.org, the Blue Cross family plan for federal employees “carries a total premium of $1,327.80 per month, of which the beneficiary pays $430.04.” The American people pick up the tab for the difference ($897.76 per employee per month). You can see the full 2012 rate schedule (pdf) for federal employee health benefits here.

I think subsidizing the health coverage of our citizens is an excellent use of public money, and I wish that all Americans could enjoy the level of coverage that Rep. Upton and I are fortunate to have at a price that is affordable for our families. I am a state employee with an insurance plan that is similar to Rep. Upton’s, and my costs are similarly subsidized by my employer, the state of Michigan, although I can’t resist mentioning that the annual cost to the insured for the family plan offered by Rep. Upton’s employer ($5,160.48) is actually a tad lower than the cost to participants in my employer’s family plan ($5,228.41).

Unfortunately, a lot of Americans who are unemployed or whose employers don’t provide health coverage for them can’t afford to pay the full premiums that they would have to pony up to get coverage for their families. The full annual premium for the family plans offered by Rep. Upton’s employer and mine is nearly $16,000. He and I are truly fortunate that our employers cover around 2/3 of the total premium for our coverage.

Quick aside here: Another nice benefit Rep. Upton and I enjoy is that our premium contributions are deducted from our paychecks before taxes, so we even get a little tax break in the bargain without a bit of effort required on our parts, which is of course not the case for those who have to pay full price on the open market. Well, employees in the state of Michigan on the two-person or family plan get the tax break if their covered partner is someone with whom they are in what some Republicans like to call a “traditional” marriage, anyway. Colleagues who are legally prohibited from marrying their partners have noted that they do not receive the same tax benefit. While I am very proud that in 2008 the faculty at Western Michigan University fought for and won “designated eligible individual” benefits so that colleagues in same-sex unions today enjoy the same health coverage for their spouses that we straight folks have always had, so far it is minus the tax break. (And those who follow Michigan politics know of course that our battle to protect benefits for LGBT families is nowhere near over. FYI, Rep. Upton is not likely to be of any help with that. In the 112th Congress, he earned a score of 13% from the Human Rights Campaign, which also reports his courageous stance on the issue of marriage equality as “Unclear, Unknown or No Response.” Way to lead, Rep. Upton.)

Anyway, back to healthcare, which will continue to be out of reach for many Americans who aren’t as lucky as Rep. Upton and me if he and his friends get their way. In 2010, over 50 million Americans had no health insurance. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, another 25 million Americans who technically have insurance have such insufficient coverage that the results are often the same kinds of health-threatening delays in seeking care for which uninsured people are also at risk as well as excessive out-of-pocket costs. Further, according to a new study by researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins, the underinsured may also be at a significantly higher risk for adverse health outcomes than the adequately insured. Those without coverage altogether, of course, are at the highest risk for adverse outcomes.

Recently, when Senate Minority Leader and adequately insured federal employee Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was asked by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, “What specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?” (I’m sure he meant 50 million), the well-compensated public servant from Kentucky had this response:

That is not the issue. The question is how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system? It is already the finest health care system in the world.

For him, maybe it is.

However, as Reuters reported in June, “More than 26,000 working-age adults die prematurely in the United States each year because they lack health insurance, according to a new study by Families USA. The study found that “a record high of 26,100 people aged 25 to 64 died for lack of health coverage in 2010, up from 20,350 in 2005 and 18,000 in 2000. That makes for a rate of about 72 deaths per day, or three per hour.”

That is not the issue.

On average, says RAND health policy analyst Dr. Arthur Kellerman, “The uninsured get health care about half as often as insured Americans.” He adds, “There is an overwhelming body of evidence that they get less preventive care, less chronic disease care and poorer quality hospital in-patient care.”

That is not the issue.

Sen. McConnell’s refreshingly candid response, making no bones about the fact that he and his party do not give a rat’s ass about the uninsured, also helps to support my earlier assertion that, despite Rep. Upton’s (somewhat disingenuous) protestations to the contrary, the zeal of Republicans in both houses of Congress to try to defeat President Obama in November far outweighs any concern that these public servants might have for the health and well-being of the upwards of 75 million uninsured and underinsured human beings in this country, a number which, by the way, is set to decline significantly over the next few years, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), only not if Rep. Upton and his buddies can help it.

My position is that all Americans deserve the same quality of care, regardless of where (or if) they are employed or how much insurance or care they can afford. I consider this a moral issue. But I do not see why it is not also a position that fiscal conservatives can get behind. As CNN Money reported in 2009, before ACA, “The problem, according to health care industry experts, is that the government and those with employer-based plans will have to pick up the tab as more Americans are unable to pay their entire medical bill.”

It’s funny because that sounds a lot like what Republicans are saying now about the ACA. As NPR News reported last month, some analysts have identified Republican claims that the ACA is a way of “requiring people who already have health insurance to help pay for those who don’t” as “a calculated political tactic.” (You don’t say.)

You know, because “requiring people who already have health insurance to help pay for those who don’t” would be something totally new and different.

Never mind about any of this, then:

1. “Nationwide, the total amount of uncompensated care provided to the uninsured reached an estimated $56 billion in 2008, according to one study,” the LA Times reports. “Those costs have prompted financially strapped hospitals to rely on a complex system of shifting costs. Most of the burden falls on taxpayers, with the government providing tens of billions of dollars annually to help hospitals care for the uninsured. Privately insured Americans also pay a price as insurers raise premiums to reflect higher charges from hospitals.” (“Trauma in the ER: Who covers the uninsured?” by Noam M. Levey, Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2012.)

2. “The mandate-supporting economists persuasively show that being uninsured predictably involves unavoidable commercial activity, and costs taxpayers and others money. The mandate-opposing economists dispute the extent of those effects, but this is an issue where size really doesn’t matter.” (“Economists Argue Over the Cost of Caring for the Uninsured,” by Einer Elhauge, The Daily Beast, 03/25/2012.)

3. “Texas Governor Rick Perry says he won’t expand Medicaid eligibility under the health reform law because he wants to spare taxpayers billions of dollars. But many Texas taxpayers are already shouldering the burden of the state’s uninsured through higher property taxes and heftier health insurance premiums.” (“Who covers health care for Texas’ uninsured? Taxpayers,” by Tami Luhby, CNN Money, 07/30/2012.)

4. “Private health insurance premiums are higher, at least in part, because uninsured people who receive health care often cannot afford to pay the full amount themselves. The costs of this uncompensated care are shifted to those who have insurance, ultimately resulting in higher insurance premiums for businesses and families.” (“Hidden Health Tax: Americans Pay a Premium,” Families USA, May 2009.)

In sum, the ACA is a step in the right direction, but I think it doesn’t do nearly enough to extend coverage or to control costs. I would prefer a single-payer system, but until we get one, I fully support the ACA as a major improvement over what came before and certainly over the whole lot of nothing (and less than nothing) that I am seeing from the GOP, which as I discussed previously, has no incentive either to extend coverage or to limit the potential profits of its corporate overlords.

NB: The Washington Post reports that members of Congress “receive the same basic health insurance coverage as rank-and-file federal employees” but that “lawmakers also have access to other services not available generally.” These additional services, detailed in the article, are opt-in, and I don’t know whether Rep. Upton takes advantage of any of them. But as a member of Congress, he does have the option. Other federal employees do not.

Up(ton) yours, Fred.

♦ Go to August 16th Up(ton) update

Because I write to my elected officials on occasion, even (if not especially) the ones I wouldn’t vote for in a million years, I sometimes end up on their mailing lists and receive communications clearly intended for their supporters. One case in point is Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), who serves in the U.S. House of Representatives for my congressional district in southwest Michigan. However, the nature and extent of his corporate sponsorship [1] makes clear that to call him “my” representative would be something of a misnomer. To call myself a “supporter” would be too.

Rep. Upton, who became chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010, sponsored eight bills in the 112th Congress (2011-12). Among the more notable of these are HR 910 (“To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change, and for other purposes”) and HR 1213, one of the 30-odd attempts by House Republicans to repeal all or part of the Affordable Care Act, a program to which Rep. Upton is vehemently opposed.

He voted in favor of HR 3803, an attempt to criminalize late-term abortions in the District of Columbia. He also voted yes on H.Amdt. 95 and HR 1076 to prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio, respectively. But this fiscal conservative voted no on H.Amdt. 92, which would have prohibited the use of federal funds for NASCAR sponsorships. Our tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen.

So yeah, Fred Upton is not my people.

Nonetheless, the many critical and snarly-faced letters I’ve written to Rep. Upton over the years have earned me a place on his mailing list, and so about a month ago, I got an email from him with the subject line “UPTON OP-ED: On Healthcare, Time to Listen to the American People.” It contained an opinion piece (“In case you missed it…”) that he wrote (or that someone on his staff wrote and put his name on, whatevs) published on July 5 in the Tri-City Record, a weekly publication that is apparently the newspaper of, um, record (get it? LOLz) for the towns of Coloma, Hartford, and Watervliet, Michigan, combined population 6,000. (Don’t bother with the link. The content of the Record is accessible online only in a weird and annoying jpeg format. You can read Rep. Upton’s article here, if you must.) In it, he rails against the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, whose individual mandate had been upheld by the Supreme Court a week earlier.

When I saw this email, I had to agree completely with Rep. Upton that it is indeed Time to Listen to the American People on healthcare, and I thought that sentiment was super credible coming from a guy who between July 2011 and June 2012 accepted more than a half a million bucks in contributions to his campaign and “leadership PAC” from the pharmaceutical industry, health insurers, hospitals, and other providers and whose campaign contributions from small individual donors come to a whopping 3% of his total haul for the 2012 election cycle.

And I wondered why he would run the piece in the Tri-City Record, rather than in, say, the Kalamazoo Gazette, where, you know, people might see it. Around 75,000 of his constituents live right here in Kalamazoo city limits, and there are more than 325,000 of us in the metro area. That’s half of the 6th congressional district (the fighting 6th!) right there.

But maybe it’s the wrong half. The 6th went pretty decisively (54-44) for President Obama in 2008, but in Kalamazoo County we were even more decisive: Obama whooped McCain here by 20 points (59-39). I’m sure the Record is an awesome paper and everything (although I think my high school newspaper charged more for a full-page ad in 1982), but I wonder if maybe Rep. Upton did not want his constituents in Greater Kalamazoo to see the op-ed on the chance that a few tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of us might actually want affordable health care and thus begin to heap scorn and disapproval on him for his position on ACA just a month before his primary challenge. (That primary is tomorrow, and his opponent is also a complete tool, BTW.) Maybe he was thinking he could lower the risk if he took his bold statement against ACA to a weekly paper with a small circulation and an iffy online presence.

And the more I think about it, the more I think that really, it’s win-win: He could publish the kind of strongly worded op-ed that his corporate overlords expect to see (and who might not be corrected if they assume that the “Tri-City” in Tri-City Record refers to three actual cities rather than three delightful if fairly small towns) and without the risk of pissing off large numbers of healthcare-appreciating constituents in the more populous parts of the district who probably don’t subscribe to the Record. Supporters outside the Tri-City area could be emailed directly. Genius.

Just one thing, though. If that’s the thinking, here’s a suggestion for Rep. Upton’s staff: Stop adding the email addresses of constituents who write to rip your boss a new one to his list of supporters. There are truly some things I’d rather not know about, and the craven, self-serving propaganda of the guy who’s supposed to be looking out for my interests is definitely one of them. It’s the least this guy can do for me. I mean that literally.

Rep. Upton’s “Time to Listen to the American People” essay starts off thusly:

While I certainly disagree with the Supreme Court’s opinion, it does not change the American people’s opinion that the law is unaffordable, unworkable, and still must be repealed. This law was controversial as it was being crafted and it has only grown more unpopular as its reach into individuals’ lives has grown, and threatens to expand further still.

Clearly I should have stopped right there, deleted the email, and gone about my day. But it was too late. I had to read the whole thing. And I had to respond. My letter of July 6, with a few proofreading tweaks and a couple of updates, appears below.

Dear Rep. Upton:

Re. your op-ed of July 5, “Time to Listen to the American People”:

The “American People,” of whom I am one, are not of a single opinion on the ACA. Far from it. While I could not agree more with your assertion that it is “time to listen” to us (i.e. the American People), I feel like you may need to be reminded that this means all of us, not just the ones who share the ideologies and values of your party.

Turns out, the American People are actually pretty evenly split on the question of the ACA in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last week. And contrary to your claim that the ACA “has only grown more unpopular as its reach into individuals’ lives has grown,” I think the opposite will prove to be the case. As you must have heard at some point while you were listening to the American People, public attitudes toward specific provisions of the ACA are actually quite favorable. And as more people come to realize (through personal experience) what the ACA will mean in their actual lives, as they begin to see real improvement in their access to care, it is likely to become increasingly popular.

But I’m thinking that since it’s a presidential election year, that is precisely what you and your GOP colleagues are so afraid of: that people will like the ACA and give the credit for it to President Obama.

You and I both know that the concerns that some middle- and working-class people have about the ACA are not because the American People don’t want affordable health care. Of course we do. And we’re not seeing anything from your party that indicates that this is even remotely a priority for it. It seems pretty disingenuous of you not to mention anything about the well-financed campaigns to lobby people like you in Congress and to try to influence public opinion with the goal of building legislative and popular support for overturning the ACA. As you know, those propaganda campaigns are key players in the construction of those concerns.

Bloomberg News reports that in 2009 alone, the insurance industry gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86 million to spend on “advertisements, polling and grass roots events to drum up opposition to the bill.” Those are the exact (and surprisingly candid) words of Chamber spokesman Tom Collamore, who is quoted in the article linked. But as a recipient of substantial industry money yourself, I am sure you won’t need to follow any of the links to learn about how much the powerful, moneyed interests have spent (and continue to spend) and what they are spending it on to try to defeat the ACA and turn public opinion against it. I mean, you must know where the money is going since so much of it is going to you.

There is simply no good reason to oppose the ACA that is not overtly political and ideological. If there are good reasons that are not ideological, you and your colleagues have failed to make the case. As you probably know, the ACA is actually a pretty conservative approach to the goal of widening affordable access to care. But clearly some of your GOP colleagues don’t believe that poor people have a right to quality care and/or that government should be in the business of helping to provide it. Those are purely ideological positions, of course. And just as clearly, in the eyes of many Republicans whose top priorities have little to do with what is best for those “American People” who don’t have a lot of money or power, the ACA is a project associated with President Obama, and so it must be stopped, regardless of what that will mean to — that’s right, us again — the American People.

What happens with the ACA probably won’t make that much of a difference in the lives of conservative political theorists and pundits and other people who can afford the best healthcare money can buy (including, of course, members of our own Congress, who as you well know receive superior health benefits, courtesy of the taxpayers, which you’re welcome). For them, this can be a purely political issue. But regular citizens don’t have that luxury. Many of your own constituents right here in SW Michigan have had to struggle with impossible, agonizing choices because there has been no affordable care available to them. For people like that — middle-class people, working people, American People — the ACA is a major step in the right direction and has immediate, tangible, and positive impacts in their actual lives.

Your constituents don’t have super PACs or elevators in their garages or Olympic dressage horses, nor do most Michigan residents have the best health coverage money can buy. (The ones who do have good coverage are often union members, by the way, the constituency that built this state and made it prosperous, and a constituency that you may have noticed your party and its corporate sponsors are doing their level best to destroy.) A lot of real people — actual American People, the ones you rightly insist must be listened to by the people they are paying to represent them — are struggling. One of the things that would help a lot of them right now is affordable health care.

The ACA, even as conservative and status-quo-protecting as it is, at least starts to make it possible for people to get the care they need. GOP resentment toward the president is not a good enough reason to cut off their access. In fact, it is an unconscionable reason. But I think in your heart of hearts you must know that.

Regain your soul.

xoxo
lcm

It should only happen.

*According to Open Secrets: Between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, Rep. Upton and his “leadership PAC” accepted more than $500,000 from electric utilities and the oil and gas industries, whose interests he supports tirelessly, and an additional $500K-plus from the pharmaceutical industry, health insurers, hospitals, and other providers. He’s also taken $20,000 from Koch Industries so far in this election cycle.