Time for Hardball on Health Care

In politics, there is a place for reasoned debate. There is also a time for the exercise of political power. These two times can coincide and at the moment they do so precisely. The President needs to step up to the plate, stop the mixed-messaging coming from his staff, bring together the members of Congress who are willing to strike a deal, and he needs to play hardball.

No one, least of all me, shares the inflated, Bismarkian notions of presidential power that animates the mind of Dick Cheney and which too often animated the policies of the last administration. But, the President is elected by the people and becomes their chosen instrument for the accomplishment of the goals he set out in the campaign. President Obama was not elected to break the race barrier, though break it he did. He was elected to accomplish something for the American people and health care was at the top of his list from the start of his campaign until election day.


Everyone knows the opening words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural about fear. But, it was at the end of that great speech that he addressed the relationship of presidential power to democracy, and did so at a time when many people were advocating that Roosevelt adopt dictatorial powers to get us out of the Depression. He said, "We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift, I take it."

President Obama needs to take the gift he was given last November. He needs to start calling some bluffs, start promising some road construction projects, start inviting key congressmen and senators to Camp David. For instance, has anyone approached some of the more conservative Democrats like Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska and said, "Senator, we know you can’t be with us on the public option, but can you vote with us on the cloture vote?" Will his constituents really throw him out because of the way he voted on what is, after all, a procedural motion? Once the health care legislation passes, how it passed will fade into memory quickly.

I do not fault the president for his willingness to compromise in order to get bipartisan support for the legislation. Large changes such as this are better enacted on a bipartisan basis and if the Democrats try to ram through health care using the reconciliation process, obviating the need for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the bad blood between the parties will make all subsequent bipartisan efforts very difficult. But, he needs to make sure that the GOP is negotiating in good faith. Sen. Grassley of Iowa is saying one thing in Washington and something else back home and that is not kosher.

What the Democrats cannot afford is a repeat of 1993 when no health care bill even came up for a vote. They need to pass something. If it has a public option, great. If it does not have a public option, we can live with it. If it has a public option that only kicks in if certain cost-savings are not achieved, that works too. But, the President needs to make this happen. The dire need of the American people has brought the issue this far. It is ripe for picking. President Obama needs to marshal the power of his office to bring it home.

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9 years 5 months ago

Your opening sentence mentions rational debate, but the rest embodies anything but. This blog post is very upsetting to read under the auspices of America Magazine. I am a new subscriber to the magazine, mostly after reading Fr. Martin's book My Life with the Saints.

Dragging out the devil of Dick Cheney is amateurish and fully advocating the use of
Congressional Earmarks to 'grease the skids' shows a lack of Conscience. This post strikes me as a partisan rant that would be more suited on DailyKos.

The democrat healthcare plans to date are primarily about power, if it were about providing healthcare coverage for those that are without insurance coverage - it could be accomplished at a small fraction of the total cost. 'Bending the cost curve' is a myth, and is impossible without rationing. Moreover, reducing end of life care is immoral.

The worst thing is not a repeat of 1993, the worst thing is that the President's ego forces the very scenario you are championing.

9 years 5 months ago
Sean Winters wirites, "If it has a public option, great. If it does not have a public option, we can live with it." Wait, not so fast. If it doesn't have a public option then where is the reform? Just same 'o same 'o. Sending everyone to the insurance companies is the system we already have; already they bleed off half of the funds for their profits, skyscrapers, and soaring salaries.
The problem is the White House doesn't have a plan, doesn't know what to do; nor does Congress. You want to play "hard ball" with a bunch of know-nothings? That's what it is beginning to look like and the very insurance and pharmaceutical people that want it this way have drawn on their century of experience to back the newcomer neophytes into this corner. The "reform" cause is lost. L-O-S-T. However, this isn't the end of the world; insurance executives are big spenders and their stimulus dollars will keep the system lumbering along down the long slope to somewhere.
9 years 5 months ago
"Prudence is the better part of valor."
I don't understand Liberals.  When "the people" are behind, its a great movement toward peace, prosperity and the Second Coming.  When "the people" (and by and large polls taken recently show that independents, and not just conservatives) are squemish about this huge overhaul, they're ignorant, mean-spirited, "know-nothings".  Why can't liberals acknowledge that their view of reform is not persuading the vast majority of the American people, but that reform (even if it is of a more conservative "free-market" variety) is still possible.  The Liberals seem to have taken a "my way or the highway" approach wherein any plan other than theirs is intrinsically evil and pro-insurance plan.  There are real concerns here, and there are some interesting conservative alternatives that should be on the table.  Instead, we get Harry Reid calling opponents to the plan "evil mongers".  Where's your outrage at that, Mr. Winters?
9 years 5 months ago
Josh, were you paying attention to the ugliness that became the McCain campaign, which had reasonable Republicans fleeing from the party (including my mother)?  Have you not seen the statements that the Republicans have made this a partisan issue, seeking a loss for Obama at any price?  Have you not seen the reports that many of the points being made at the town halls are taken from industry talking points?  The media is not making this stuff up.  It is up to all of us to pay attention.
9 years 5 months ago
Michael, the media are not to be trusted.  They are biased.
9 years 5 months ago
Actually, Michael, McCain's health care plan is an ideal plan that should be the starting point for discussions.  In fact, some of Obama's plans crib from the McCain plan, which he disingenuously attacked McCain for during the campaign.  With all respect, I don't think a ''but he said it first'' response is helpful.  And as David Brooks has pointed out, Obama isn't exactly being forthright in some of his comments about health (such as when he says that all Americans who want to keep their health care the way it is will be able to under his plan; the CBO flatly contradicts that statement or when he says that preventive care will reduce costs; again there is not a shred of evidence to support that comment). The problem is that Liberals only want to define reform according to their definition and anything less is simply selling out to the rich fat insurance companies.  And anyone who doesn't see it their way is dismissed as ignorant or evil.  You can point to some mean statements all you want, but all polls taken in the last month indicate that Independents are not supportive of this plan.  Face it, he doesn't have the country with him on this.
9 years 5 months ago
I also have to just follow up my last post by saying that when Democrats own the White House, the House and have the vaunted 60 vote Senate, and you guys are still whining about those mean old dirty Republican tricks, its a little reminiscent of the boy calling wolf.  I know its much harder to acknowledge that you might have just lost the argument, however.
9 years 5 months ago
Obama lost 32 states in the election.  That means that 64 Senators, even those that are democrats, live in a state that Obama did not carry.  In many others he did carry, it is not by a wide margin.  Yes, he won, but the senators who have to run in 2010 have to pay attention to those voters in their states and the tide for massive government programs has already run its course.  When the democrats pumped so much pork into that plan it squealed and when it did nothing for jobs, the party lost credibility on pushing through any more big spending programs.  If there is no bipartisan solution which means no government run healthcare so called public opition plan can be passed with any cover for these senators, it is dead. 
America is far more conservative which is why liberals always try to spin what they are trying to do rather than simply calling it by its real name, socialism.  Thank God for the internet and talk radio to uncover the sham that the MSM tries to hide.
9 years 5 months ago
I do not think it is whining to complain that Republicans are lying about the "Death panels" and that people are showing up at public forums armed with assault weapons and calling Obama a Nazi for wanting to give more people access to insurance.  Level-headed conservatives should decry such behavior (too few are doing so) and dispute the Democratic plan(s) on its actual flaws.
Comparing Obama's rather timid plans to reform health insurance to Hitler's mass murder frankly seems delusional (sorry-can't think of a gentler way to put it).  We seem to have entered a downward spiral of increasingly vicious and divisive rhetoric, and I fear that some will start to translate the rhetoric into action.  A conscious decision by all sides to eschew comparisions to Nazis, Fascists, Hitler, and Communists would be a very good idea.
9 years 5 months ago
I agree that some of the more heated rhteoric (on both sides) should be decried. However, it seems to me that the media and talking heads have unnecessarily focused on these more outlandish behaviors (I'm tempted to think that the reason for doing so is the result of ingrained prejudice that leads them to think that anyone who opposes Obama MUST be delusional).  There have been and are very reasoned conservative opponents to the President.  For example, in today's Columbia SC newspaper there was an article about the very civil town hall meeting Sen Demint held there with thousands of people.  Yet that doesn't get covered.
And again, my main point is that complaining about the heated rhetoric does NOT change the fact that the polls show that a majority of Americans, primarily independents, do NOT support the plan.
9 years 5 months ago
People aren't comparing the 5 plans to Nazi genocide, they're comparing those 5 plans' contents to similar policies ennacted by the National Socialist Workers Party policies.
And while the House version doesn't have a section titled "death panels" it does envision panels that will be directed by the government to discuss death and dying issues... so call it what you want, the substance is the same.
Furthermore, people are complaining about Obama and Congress' plans to pay for these plans, what will happen to their private insurers with the new mandates, and what will happen to Medicare Advantage (which Obama has mentioned may be cut to pay for these other "reforms".) These concerns aren't hyperbole and hype, they're based on the text of the actual bills as well as Obama's own rhetoric.


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