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Great merger: Republicans and lobbyists

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Lobbyists, sometimes known as the Republican Party, is on the march again.

The SPCL, with the aid of its media goons -- Rush (Greasy Thumb) Limbaugh, Bill (Bugsy) O'Reilly and the Sundunce Kid, Glenn Beck -- is trying to convince Americans that publicly-financed health care is a fate worse than death or, at best, a prelude to it.

At meeting after town hall meeting around the country dozens, sometimes hundreds, of snarling citizens have shown up to drown out a hapless congressperson who is trying to explain what the health care bill Congress is now working on might look like.

Such Republican stalwarts as Sarah Palin have come forward to announce that they weren't about to allow government bureaucrats decide when their children and elderly parents should die -- and they didn't care how many votes it cost them.

Newt Gingrich, the party's roving pseudo-intellectual, agreed with that assessment as did Chuck Grassley, the Republican point man on health care legislation. Grassley suggested that the "controversial" parts of the health care bill be removed; you know, the Nazi stuff like hospice counseling. (I've known Sen. Grassley ever since he was the youngest member of the Iowa Legislature and I always thought he was smarter than he looked. I was wrong.)

Congress responded with a hysteria generally reserved for large fires in crowded theaters; it went back home, hid under the bed and didn't answer the phone, hoping the critics would go away. Instead, the public health care option went away.

They're still working on a health care bill in Washington but the idea that there should be a publicly financed insurance option that would compete with private plans (and keep them honest, perhaps?) seems all but dead, the victim of Republican Swiftboating.

The Republicans have gotten really good at this sort of thing. For example, they have managed to take a no-brainer -- hospice counseling -- and make it seem like a diabolical plot to kill the aged before their time and to strangle special needs infants in their cribs, a breathtaking leap of the imagination, given that conservatives show very little imagination about anything else.

Richard Nixon, the godfather of political dirty-trickery, must be smiling right now. (If he can see us through all of that smoke and fire.)

Hospice isn't really anything like euthanasia. What is being suggested is informing terminally ill patients of their end-of-life options. Do they want to be kept alive by extraordinary means or would they prefer to go gentle into that good night, preferably in their homes surrounded by loved ones? Their choice. It has nothing to do with killing old people and to suggest otherwise is contemptible.

About 30 percent of Medicare money is spent in the last 30 days of a patient's life. That patient is very often comatose or suffering from dementia or in constant pain. In any case he or she is unable to say, "Stop this torture." It is too late. Hospice offers the possibility of planning a death with dignity.

And if you scoff at the concept of "death with dignity" then I doubt you've ever stood vigil over a loved one who lies in a hospital bed, unconscious, wired-up, plugged in and more resembling a lab experiment than a human being.

By the way, there are experiments that indicate that people who are taken off the machines and sent home to await death to overtake them often live longer than their colleagues, the ones getting the state-of-the-art medical treatment.

I've done it both ways. One is painful to watch, the other excruciating.

I still have some hope for the health care plan, but it is fading. The panic-mongers are out, whipping up fear and resentment in the weakest part of the population -- Congress.

There's an old saying that a camel is a horse built by committee. I'm afraid that our health care system is going to look like a camel after a committee of lobbyists has conspired to improve it.

Donald Kaul, retired as Washington columnist for the Des Moines Register, has covered the nation's capital for more than three decades.