Jonathan Cohn

Senior Editor

A few weeks ago, a friend who works at a major hospital mentioned that a different kind of patient was increasingly showing up at the emergency room. In addition to the uninsured and underinsured, who'd always been coming, he was seeing more patients who might be best described as "pre-uninsured"--that is, people who were about to lose their jobs and, as a result, their insurance coverage.

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By now, you've probably heard plenty of pundits explain--some sorrowfully, some not so sorrowfully--that plans for universal health care will have to wait because of the economy. In one popular version of this argument, we can't pursue universal coverage right away because we have to spend what money we have on measures that stimulate growth. And health care reform, this argument contends, wouldn't do that. But why wouldn't it?

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Panic in Detroit

General Motors has come to Washington, begging for a $25 billion bailout to keep it and its ailing Detroit counterparts going next year. But nobody seems too thrilled about the prospect. Liberals dwell on the companies' gas-guzzling sportutility vehicles. Conservatives obsess over all the well-paid union members with gold-plated benefits. And people of all ideological backgrounds remember how they used to buy domestic cars, years ago, but stopped because the cars were so damn lousy.

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Panic in Detroit

General Motors has come to Washington, begging for a $25 billion bailout to keep it and its ailing Detroit counterparts going next year. But nobody seems too thrilled about the prospect. Liberals dwell on the companies’ gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles. Conservatives obsess over all the well-paid union members with gold-plated benefits. And people of all ideological backgrounds remember how they used to buy domestic cars, years ago, but stopped because the cars were so damn lousy.

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I'll have more to say about the restructuring plans the Detroit Three submitted to Congress on Tuesday--or, more likely, I'll outsource that analysis to people who know more about the subject than I do. But, for now, I wanted to point out a wrinkle in the industry's crisis that far too few writers (myself included) have acknowledged. The three U.S. automakers are not in the same situation. While it's difficult to get a precise read on Chrysler's status, because--as a privately held company--it doesn't release as much information, we have a pretty good idea about the other two.

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Today in the Times, Paul Krugman lends his Nobel-winning credibility to the argument for massive government spending in order to stimulate the economy. Yes, it will drive up the deficit in the short run. And, yes, fears of higher deficits led Bill Clinton to abandon his spending promises during the 1990s. But this is not the 1990s, Krugman reminds us. Back then, Clinton was worried that government borrowing would "crowd out" private investment, by driving up interest rates.

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Today the Obama transition office will announce its health care policy team. As expected, Tom Daschle will be leading it. According to sources closes to the transition, he'll be joined by a set of analysts including Lauren Aronson, Mark Childress, Dora Hughes, and Jeanne Lambrew. Harvard economist David Cutler will be serving as a part-time, outside advisor, reprising a role he served during the campaign. Among the other outside advisers are Jonathan Blum, Rahul Rajkumar, Terrell McSweeny, and Jenny Backus.

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From the Detroit Free Press: Myth:  They build unreliable junk. Reality: The creaky, leaky vehicles of the 1980s and '90s are long gone. Consumer Reports recently found that "Ford's reliability is now on par with good Japanese automakers." The independent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study scored Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, Mercury, Pontiac and Lincoln brands' overall quality as high or higher than that of Acura, Audi, BMW, Honda, Nissan, Scion, Volkswagen and Volvo. Power rated the Chevrolet Malibu the highest-quality midsize sedan.

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Assembly Line

If you've been following the auto industry's crisis, then you've probably read or heard a lot about overpaid American autoworkers--in particular, the fact that the average hourly employee of the Big Three makes $70 per hour. That's an awful lot of money. Seventy dollars an hour in wages works out to almost $150,000 a year in gross income, if you assume a forty-hour work week. Is it any wonder the Big Three are in trouble?

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Could the health insurance industry support universal health insurance? For a few months, industry representatives have been telling reformers both on and off Capitol Hill that they'd consider it, subject to certain conditions. On Wednesday, they said it publicly. Their position is pretty simple. They would be willing to change their business practices--and stop discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions--as long as the government required everybody to obtain health insurance.

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