The Obamacare War is Over

January 26th, 2010 at 9:00 am | 12 Comments |

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In the days since the Massachusetts vote, liberal columnists and bloggers urge Democrats to fight one last battle to save Obamacare.

In his Friday column, economist Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times that House Democrats must recognize their “moment of truth.” He implores them to vote for the Senate healthcare bill and “do the right thing.”

47 health policy experts endorsed this position, writing an open letter to the President. In The New Republic, Prof. Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago, one of the letter signers, notes that: “we are so close to enacting a historic reform.”

Former Democratic speechwriter Michael Cohen, writing in the New York Daily News, implores Democrats to act now. He recognizes that they will need to “swallow their pride and vote for the health-care bill that passed the Senate without much change” but suggests it’s all worth it.

These arguments have been echoed across the blogosphere.

As I noted last Tuesday, there are still options on paper to pass Obamacare this year. The most plausible one: to get the House to drop conference negotiations with the Senate, and simply pass the Senate bill. Krugman, Pollock, and Cohen all endorse this approach. It seems that the White House is at least flirting with a variant of the idea.

The reality, however, is that the war is over. Obamacare was lost the moment that the Democrats managed to lose even Massachusetts.

Democrats are still in a state of shock. They shouldn’t be. They spent 2009 crafting bad legislation.

The White House’s determination to swiftly pass health reform, and to pass it along partisan lines, meant that all meaningful policies were abandoned in the process. Health reform was supposed to be about reducing premiums for working Americans; every CBO estimate has suggested that premiums would in fact rise with the proposed legislation. President Obama has spoken time and again about the need to “bend the curve of rising health costs.” The White House half-heartedly embraced ideas that would rein in rising health costs, and then quietly negotiated away these provisions in the different drafts before Congress. Even a federal agency estimated that costs would increase under Obamacare. The promises of greater competition? By the time the Senate finally got around to passing its bill, the national health insurance exchange (modeled after the health benefits enjoyed by members of Congress) was whittled down to 50 unworkable state exchanges.

It should never have gotten to this point. The surprise wasn’t that the people of Massachusetts rejected this problematic legislation – it’s that the White House didn’t put the brakes on the process earlier.

In the coming days, we can expect Democrats to do little. They will blame others for their loss in Massachusetts; they will scheme about the possibility of passing some legislation this year; they will fantasize about a shift in public opinion.

Ultimately, the White House will need to make a decision. Either they abandon all efforts or they reach across the aisle.

In 2009, the President worked with Democrats in order to craft popular and needed legislation to reform American healthcare. By this January, he couldn’t even persuade the people of Massachusetts as to the value of his efforts – in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3.5 to 1, in a state that he himself won by more than 26% just over a year ago. In other words, while working with his allies, he didn’t achieve anything close to success.

A bipartisan effort, however, won’t give him everything he wants, but it may give him some sensible legislation.

On Wednesday, when he delivers his State of the Union address, we’ll get a first taste of the post-January 19 presidency.

Will he be feisty but irrelevant? Or will we enter into a period of post-partisanship, as he’s promised before?

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • sinz54

    I have real problems with ObamaCare.

    But I would respect the Democrats more, if at least some of them were willing to fall on their swords and vote for ObamaCare, even if that meant that they would lose the upcoming November election.

    Instead, the Brown win in MA has many of the Dems scrambling to save their own political futures.

    My response to them is: If you thought this bill was worth voting for before the MA special election, then why isn’t it still worth voting for now?

  • ProfNickD

    The Obamacare war was over in late June when the CBO report indicated that the Senate bill would run over a trillion dollars — that motivated the town hall protests and ultimately galvanized the opposition from “middle America.”

  • mlindroo

    Sinz54 wrote:
    > I would respect the Democrats more, if at least some of them were willing to fall on their swords
    > and vote for ObamaCare, even if that meant that they would lose the upcoming November election.

    Hear hear!

    I would further add that if the lasting “conventional wisdom” impression of ObamaCare turns out to be Failure with a capital F, even voting AGAINST reform now won’t save the Dems later.

    Say what you will about Congressional Republicans, but they at least have the balls to stubbornly continue pursuing unpopular policies that were soundly rejected by voters in the previous elections. The most recent example was diverting additional troops to Iraq after the disastrous 1996 elections.

    MARCU$

  • eriback

    A bipartisan effort? The bills that passed were as close to bipartisan as you’re going to get. What was the Republicans’ HC plan again? Oh yeah, tort reform, period. If the Republicans actually proposed a bill that included the principles Obama stated (portability, no pre-existing conditions, near-universal coverage, cost savings as compared with current trajectory) we’d be somewhere. And if there’s a way to have everything else without the universal coverage, that won’t make us Dems happy but it would be a great step forward; I just don’t see how it can be done (eliminating denials for pre-existing without adding millions of new customers for the insurance companies).

  • anniemargret

    sinz: correct. Democrats need to pass the bill, warts and all. But really….how many politicians on either side of the aisle will fall on their swords for the good of the country or on principle when their sorry hides are on the fence? Not many.

    profnickd: Middle America is screwed without the healthcare reform bill. People with money can always find a means to pay. It still amazes me that those that have the most to lose as the ones screaming the loudest. They would benefit the most, not the least. Which just makes one wonder how many of them actually know what they’re protesting against. Universal coverage so that they don’t lose their healthcare benefits if they lose their job? Protest! Pre-existing conditions so that they don’t benefits? protest! Cost savings that lower the premiums so that their families don’t go into bankruptcy if one of the their family members gets seriously ill? Protest! Wah????

  • Kanzeon

    ” every CBO estimate has suggested that premiums would in fact rise with the proposed legislation.”

    Isn’t this a little simplistic?

    http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/69763-cbo-report-predicts-increases-in-insurance-premiums

    It would result in a decrease in premiums for those with employer policies, and an increase in health insurance offered as an employment benefit.

    It would result in an increase for those buying individual policies, but nearly half of the individual policies would be subsidized.

    The Democrats say that the coverages would be better, so the increase in price adds value.

    The Republican final response: “The Democrats bills will still require nearly 14 million Americans to purchase unsubsidized insurance that is more expensive than they could get under current law.” 14 million people is about 5% of the population.

    Judging the merits of the bill by the strength of your critique, I think it must be a winner.

  • Churl

    Kanzeon et al.

    The bill comprises 2000+ pages of legislative complexity. Over 100 new agencies are to be created to do who knows what. Somebody called “The Secretary” is given wide ranging but ill defined powers. Union members get breaks that others don’t. Nobody has even tried to inform the electorate, much less convince them, how on balance they will be better off after the bill becomes law.

    The proposal is so complicated, its creation has been so secretive, and its proponents are so mistrusted that a great many people simply want the whole thing to go away.

  • Kanzeon

    Churl:

    That’s a different objection. Apparently the “rising premium” argument fails.

    Give me a break, though: it’s too hard to understand, so we don’t want it? Talk about diminished expectations.

  • Kanzeon

    Churl:

    Here is a description of the Senate bill:

    http://help.senate.gov/DetailedSummary.pdf

    Here is a comparison of the House and Senate bills:

    http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/health_care/HScomparison.pdf

    It doesn’t seem that hard to me.

  • kevin47

    “What was the Republicans’ HC plan again?”

    To eliminate the tax deduction for employer benefits and replace it with a system that provides tax deductions for health care plans alongside HSA account. The Republican candidate ran on that program. Obama claimed it would amount to a tax on healthcare, and proposed a system that would expand benefits while reducing costs.

    Republicans couldn’t match that offer and, as it turns out, neither could he.

    “Give me a break, though: it’s too hard to understand, so we don’t want it? Talk about diminished expectations.”

    It’s not that the components of the bill are hard to understand. What is hard is understanding whether or not it will benefit the majority of Americans, and why it will do so. For example, why do I benefit from a tax exemption for the health benefits of union members? I find that very difficult to understand.

    What does this bill accomplish? What (other than bribes) ties these 2,000 pages together? The only defense offered by congressional Democrats is that the bill will assuredly pass. Do you see the problem?

  • Kanzeon

    kevin47

    “What does this bill accomplish?”

    For starters, a couple well-publicized items:

    It extends insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans who are not currently covered, to near-universal coverage (94%).

    It eliminates exclusions for pre-existing conditions so insurance is portable and people aren’t tied to their jobs.

    It does so without raising costs, probably lowering costs for the majority of consumers.

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitol-briefing/2009/10/cbo_says_senate_health_bill_wo.html?hpid=topnews

    The defense of the bill is that it makes strides towards objectives of better coverage for more people – not that it will “assuredly pass.”

    No, I don’t see the problem. If you took ten minutes on the internet, you could confirm the basic features of the bill. The problem is the misinformation and misdirection and feigned confusion from the bill’s opponents – nothing to do with the bill itself.

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