What a mess. In an implementation that was flawed from the start, not enough Americans knew about the impending changes, and even fewer were prepared for the transition.
By best estimates, over 6.5 million Americans would suddenly lose service they’d depended on for years. Sticker shock set in as people realized that changing over from their old system to the new one would cost a lot more than they were promised.
But one man stood against this resistance. Multiple failures were no reason to delay a program that affected so many millions of Americans.
No, I don’t mean President Obama. That man was Congressman Fred Upton from Michigan (R-MI).
And, no — we’re not talking about the Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare“), which Upton’s legislation attempted to gut and delay last Friday. We’re talking about his poorly conceived, overly-expensive Digital Transition and Public Safety Act, which he fought to push through against the very concerns he has now for Obamacare.
Because apparently when the federal government forces millions of Americans to buy a product that they don’t want, for the supposed greater good, it’s only a problem when Democrats do it, but not the GOP.
The digital transition debacle
In 2005, Upton sponsored the Digital Transition and Public Safety Act, which similar to Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), was supposed to solve a national problem by inconveniencing a small number of people.
Why was it implemented? The 9/11 Commission told Congress that analog television signals were doomed to failure eventually, and that only a massive overhaul from analog to digital systems would allow the kind of rapid and effective communication that America would need in a crisis. This meant that over 20 million televisions (mostly owned by the elderly and the poor) with rabbit ears, coat hangers and origami-shaped tin foil antennae would be made obsolete with the flick of a congressional pen.
Analog would stop beaming out from towers on February 18, 2009, and anyone who hadn’t switched their old school set to a digital version was going to get a blank screen.
This change was forced on the American people, whether they liked it or not.
GOP supports one, fights another, universal program
Yet, the Digital Transition Act, like ACA, wasn’t going to affect most Americans. The vast majority of Americans get health insurance through an employer, and ACA doesn’t affect them. The majority of Americans in 2009 got their television from cable or satellite, so the transition wouldn’t affect them either.
But there were those independent viewers out there, some five percent of the U.S. television viewing public, that suddenly were getting notices that their televisions would go blank. Unless, of course, they paid for a digital converter box to watch the same television broadcast they used to get for free — for “upgraded” digital service they never asked for.
Ironically this is about the same percentage of Americans who have to switch their “cancelled” plans thanks to Obamacare. In 2009 Upton and the GOP argued that inconveniencing five percent of the U.S. population was fine in the long run. They’d eventually make the change. That was no reason to delay the digital roll-out.
But their tune has changed now that Obamacare is on the table.
Pointing out this irony certainly paints the GOP in a new light.
This isn’t just a matter of pointing out Republican contrarianism; this example demonstrates how that contrarianism makes all legislation a game of brinkmanship instead of good policy.
Democrats show they can “work across the aisle“
Just weeks before the digital transition deadline in February 2009, it was clear that the nation wasn’t ready. Millions of Americans who had been perfectly happy with their free television were furious that they had to spend money on digital converter boxes — plus the government program to subsidize the switch had run out of money.
Democrats in Congress proposed a bill to delay the transition for four months until June 2009, but Upton and most of his fellow Republicans fought back, arguing that the kinks in the program could be worked out, and that 6.5 million people losing their television for possibly months was a small price to pay for improving communications technology.
In the end, Upton lost, the roll-out was delayed, most of the problems were worked out, and the vast majority of Americans never realized there was ever a problem. See how that works?
Democrats help out the GOP
During the heated debate over the delay, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W. VA) said: ”The outgoing Bush administration grossly mismanaged the digital television transition and consumers are confused, households are not prepared, and the coupon program for converter boxes is broken.”
Yet, Democrats spent four months fixing the issues, even going so far as to fund the failed converter box coupon program through Obama’s stimulus package. While Fred Upton and his Republican colleagues didn’t want any delay, they knew the Democrats were delaying it in good faith.
The Democrats were trying to fix their policy in the process, not delay it as a ruse to destroy the digital transition act.
GOP returns no favors
However, this is exactly what the Republicans in the House, along with 39 Democrats, tried to do to Obamacare last Friday with their Keep Your Health Plan Act. The bill not only would allow people to keep insufficient insurance plans for a year, but would also allow insurance providers to keep selling those plans to new customers.
When it comes to rolling out healthcare programs that save lives, versus junk policies that are outdated because they no longer meet national standards for adequate coverage, a shaky roll out means shut the whole thing down to the GOP?
But when given the choice between allowing Americans to keep using inferior analog TV signals, versus allowing millions to have no service at all during the poor implementation of the digital transition policy, Upton and Republican members of Congress wanted to keep going the shift going?
What a short member some members of the GOP have.
Calling out Republican hypocrisy
In a perfect world, President Obama and the Democrats, would have delayed parts of Obamacare and spent a few months working out the kinks with the GOP.
But the Republicans have waged the last two elections by promising to defund Obamacare no matter what, which means the president had to push through a program that wasn’t ready for primetime because the Tea Party, flip-floppers like Upton, and their ringmaster, House Speaker John Boehner, can’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith.
Representative Upton and his colleagues should drop their relentless attack on the Affordable Care Act and commit to fixing existing legislation, not gutting it. Had the Democrats acted like this in 2009, your grandma would still be staring at a blank screen, playing with tin foil rabbit ears wondering why she can’t get her stories.
You don’t use your healthcare plan everyday, but you do turn on the television. The reality is, nobody wants to see either of them disrupted by a shoddy government upgrade. However, nothing can be fixed when one half of Congress treats all legislation like a zero sum game.
This article originally appeared online at TheGrio.com.