Monday, January 25, 2010

How Obama botched healthcare

To pass something as far reaching as healthcare reform and as far reaching as a public option, requires having the courage of your convictions.

The problem with Obama is that he has had no courage and no convictions, and as anyone familiar with his entire political career knows, he never did. For anyone who thinks he did, you can count yourself among the multitudes of the bamboozled.

When Obama was in the Illinois state senate he voted "present" over 100 times so he didn't have to vote for or against anything. That's not courage or conviction. It's political expediency so he didn't have a record on anything people could vote against when he ran for re-election.
And that is the overriding reason why healthcare reform languished, ( something I pointed out as far back as July when I said Obama was botching it) .

Obama never drew any lines in the sand because he didn't have any. He didn't give the congress any direction or any ideas because he didn't have any. And honestly, he didn't care. Yes he wanted something to pass but only so that he could say he passed it and then go on to the next thing. When it looked like it was going to be the senate version without a public option that would become law, he actually said he had never campaigned for a public option anyway. The audacity of lying.

Obama took a proposition -- the public option -- that was supported by 72% of the public according to a CBS poll, and managed to run it into the ground. The public option was a very easy sell. Somewhow he managed to blow it.

He supported the public option but then as soon as the town hall crazies showed up with their Hitler signs, Obama's knees buckled and the next thing we knew he was sending out proxies saying the public option was only a "sliver" of the health care bill and not that important and he could live without it.

The next day, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean as well as other members of congress went public saying it was the "centerpiece" of healthcare reform and had to drag Obama back to supporting it. Which he did. Until the anti public option commercials and town hall crazies made his knees buckle again and he dropped it.

This is what went on for 9 months and in the end, Obama's idea of presidential leadership was trying to pressure 59 Democratic senators who were ready to vote for a public option, to give it up to satisfy one senator, Joe Lieberman, who opposed it. Obama didn't know how to handle him. And in the end, Obama didn't care. The public option was not something he was going to fight for because he has never fought for or against anything in his life.

Obama didn't get tough with Lieberman, didn't twist his arm, didn't have any powers of persuasion and offered no carrots and no sticks when he had ample supplies of both ( but didn't know how to use them) and instead told the senate to just throw in the towel and give in to Lieberman.

They ended up with a piece of legislation coming out of the senate that its supporters said was "better than nothing". Not exactly change people believed in.

Democrats have been getting beaten in recent elections because "better than nothing" is not what people want. Those who believed in Obama in the first place were bamboozled. They need to admit it, get over it and stop waiting for Obama to turn into something is isn't and never was.

Obama caused this mess in the first place by trying to play politics, making a bipartisan bill a goal for no good reason. The Democrats had 60 votes in the senate and at least 58 ready to vote for a public option and what does Obama do? Instead of taking advantage of that majority in any way he could he wasted everyone's time with a senseless attempt at trying to molify those who were against reform in the first place.

Bipartisanship never makes anything better. It's only important if youre worried something will fail and then you want to be able to spread the blame. In 1993 every Republican in the House and senate voted against Bill Clinton's 1993 budget because they said the 5c a gallon gasoline tax earmarked to reduce the deficit would drive up unemployment, explode the deficit and send the country into a deeper recession. The Republcians batted 1.000. They were wrong about everything.

The budget passed with only 51 votes, with Al Gore casting the tie breaking vote, and the results were the greatest economic expansion in US history, the elimination of the deficit, lowest unemployment in 40 years, a balanced budget and a $5 1/2 trillion budget surplus by the time Clinton left office. So much for the value of bipartisanship.

Bi partisanship is never a worthy goal. But it does take courage to stand up for what you believe in the face of unified opposition. Obama should have fought for the public option and made his case to the American people, a case they had already for the most part, bought.

Instead Obama caused the congress to waste months trying to negotiate with Republicans who made it clear they were going to oppose healthcare reform to the end, if for no other reason then to make Obama look like an idiot. And Obama took it lying down.

Obama could have used Jim DeMint's comments about opposing healthcare in order to destroy Obama as a rallying cry, to say to the country "the Republicans are ready to deny 300 million people the healthcare reform they need just to get back at me for crass partisan purposes". He could have made the Republicans pay dearly and get the reform passed.

He didn't. He didnt know how.

Obama doesn't know how to fight because he never has. He used the word "fight" 14 times in his town hall speech in Ohio on the economy.But he never fought for the public option, never stood up to the Republicans or the insurance companies, and let 30% of the country who opposed it, set the agenda for the 70% who wanted it, because the 30% made the most noise. Obama is now talking fight, but has always been about words without backing them up. Like his promise to use public financing if he was the Democratic nominee.Or any number of other pledges or promses he's broken.

The truth is, it never should have come to this on healthcare. The bill should have been passed a long time ago and wasn't because of Obama's lack of leadership. He let the Republicans define the debate and sat back and did virtually nothing.He took a proposition like the public option which 65- 72% of the people supported back in June, and somehow blew it.

They are now talking about trying to pass aspects of the health bill piece meal. That wont work.. Not after all this. The congress needs to do something radical, to take matters into their own hands and figure out how to use reconciliation to get sweeping healthcare reform through. Reconciliation is a process they should have used immediately and they would have avoided all the rancor and bluster of town hall meetings and talking heads and $200 million in anti reform commercials.. But Obama didnt.

In the end, Scott Brown's victory shouldnt matter. The House was never going to buy the senate version of the bill anyway, which in fact they havent. And the senate was never going to have 60 votes to pass a bill with a public option because Obama didnt know how to use common sense, persuasion and a threat of losing the Homeland Security chairmanship on Joe Lieberman.

As recently as last month, two polls., the respected Kaiser Family Foundation poll and the not so respected Washington Post poll, showed that 58% and 57% respectively supported and wanted a public option. If you cant win with that kind of public support, when can you win?

So now it's finding a way to use budget reconciliation even if some Democratic senators don't like it and ram it through. If they don't ,Obama and the Democratic congress lose all credibility. And probably the next election.


Alessandro Machi said...

Are you saying there were only one set of crazies that attended the town hall forums all over the country?

I think both sides were evenly presented.

In my opinion the wild card to the entire health care issue is....drum roll please....."the economy stupid".
(a famous moment from a Bill Clinton debate in which Hillary Clinton held up a sign to remind Bill that....(it's the economy stupid).

Healthcare is the top of the muffin, it's what you do when you've earned it by stabilizing the US economy and redefining what it is that creates a stable economy.

I don't think Barack Obama could have made everyone happy no matter what he did because of the overall state of the economy.

Anonymous said...

I disagree that Obama was weak and aimless. Having cut his deals with the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, the last thing he wanted was a "public option" (whatever that might have been). The point of this exercise was to guarantee captive insurance buyers, subsidized if necessary by public money, and no reduction in drug costs.