The Obama Health Care Plan

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 23, 2010

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A day after the President released his health care plan, it is clear that the plan is running into a fair amount of trouble. Bart Stupak is objecting to the language concerning abortion funding, Senator Jay Rockefeller has stated that he will not support pushing through a public option via reconciliation, and the White House, via Robert Gibbs, itself stated that it does not believe that the public option can pass via reconciliation.

Of course, as Megan McArdle points out, using reconciliation in the context of health care reform is a terrible idea:

Reconciliation is not meant to handle these sorts of problems; it’s meant to help Congress get revenues in line with outlays without letting protracted negotiations push us into a budget crisis. It’s not possible to do any sort of comprehensive, rational overhaul of the Senate health bill — which after all, was intended to be the opening salvo in a negotiation, not the final bill.

More broadly, for all that Democrats are declaring that they have a mandate, it’s pretty clear that the public does not want them to pass any of the health care bills on the table — which has to include the Obama plan, since it is only a minor tweak on the existing proposals. Polls have shown more Americans opposing passage than supporting it since early summer, and opposition has risen fairly steadily over time.

[. . .]

Democrats have had plenty of time to make their case. They have failed to do so. The longer they have talked, the more firmly the voters have rejected their ideas. If Congress goes ahead anyway, they will pay a terrible political price.

Many progressives are pushing the notion that having already once voted for it, Democrats will pay that political price no matter what, so they might as well pass it. That ignores several factors. First, a hated bill that failed last December is not going to engender the same ire as a hated bill that passed in May.

Second, Republicans will capitalize on the use of the reconcilation process, characterizing it as a procedural trick. And third, the provisions that go into effect early, like forbidding insurers to discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions, are probably going to push up the cost of coverage in the short run.

It’s far from clear that Democrats have the votes to pass anything close to this bill, even through reconciliation. Pro-life Democrats in the House may not go along with the Senate bill, which has more liberal language on abortion.

I guess that Ezra Klein wrote this before the Gibbs statement. I certainly agree with it:

One other point on the public option: This has been a complete and utter failure of White House leadership. They need to give this effort their support, or they need to kill it by publicly stating their opposition. But they can’t simply wait for someone else to make the decision for them, which has been their strategy until now.

Klein raises the good point that the White House has essentially left Senate Democrats hanging on the issue of reviving the public option. I wonder how happy those Senate Democrats are about it, and I can’t help but think that they may find a way to get back at the White house politically in the future.

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