Say what you will about the health reform bill introduced by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), and the Left is having a field day attacking it
, but at least it is a plan. President Obama has spent months talking about what he wants out of a bill, but when the chips are down and the polls are crashing, all we get from him is a two and half page outline
. Why would he offer such weak leadership?
One possible answer, for you cynics out there (and I may be one), is that he has zero leadership experience and this is simply his way of voting “present” one more time. But that’s too easy and too amateurish for someone so politically savvy.
The only logical answer is he doesn’t want to be pinned down on any specifics. Sure, he’s talked about what he’d like in a bill, but he’s pretty much disavowed everything he’s said he supports too. He wants a public option one day, but doesn’t need one the next, then explains how it is vital to “real reform.” It literally can’t be both but that hasn’t stopped him from having it both ways.
So at this point, whenever anyone criticizes Obamacare the White House has the perfect defense, “There is no bill.” You can’t win a shadow boxing match, you can’t pick a lock with mashed potatoes, and you can’t pin any unpopular proposals on the President.
This works very well in a campaign because it frustrates your opponent and leaves the public to judge you based mainly on your personality, not your policies. But it’s about as effective a way to lead a nation as would be hiring Kanye West to be pointman for rehabbing your public image.
In 2003, I spent a lot of time fighting the proposed Medicare prescription drug entitlement
because it was simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic without addressing the iceberg ahead. Back then, President Bush outlined the reforms he wished to see in Medicare in order to incorporate a prescription drug benefit. Those reforms were good, and crucial to the fiscal health, not only of Medicare but of the country as a whole. But all he did was introduce general principles, not a specific plan; he left the details to Congress. They ended up slapping a massive unfunded entitlement on top of an even more massive unfunded entitlement, patted themselves on the back for being so compassionate and sat back down in their deck chairs while speeding ever faster into the northern Atlantic. President Obama is leading us down the same path.
Real leadership risks unpopularity for righteousness. It was just as bad when President Bush left the wheel for Congressional Republicans to steer as it is for President Obama to hand it to those in his own party.
The American people do not want what Democratic leaders are pushing, but they’ve demonstrated a tin-ear to public opinion, opting for ideology over their duty. This is where strong leadership can play a role.
No one disputes there is room for reform in our health care system; nothing involving human beings is perfect. But by refusing to take a true leadership role, President Obama has allowed the extreme partisans to take over, and he leaves us now with talk of ramming a bill through the Senate by utilizing a budgetary trick called “reconciliation.”
With all the claims of a desire for bi-partisanship, the President doesn’t seem very “bi” curious. Lip-service paid to reform ideas important to conservatives are discarded faster than a wet Kleenex during cold season. If the President isn’t willing to step-up and lead by including real reform ideas important to the Right, like tort reform and allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines, we’re going to end up with a partisan bill that may or may not pass the House, that will need to be rammed through the Senate and will have to be signed by Obama because he’s put all his chips on double zero and a loss would make him less relevant faster than just about any President in history.
All is not lost; not yet anyway. Since he has been so nebulous about his “plan,” he still has time to cobble together a bill that lowers costs and allows more people to obtain coverage without harming the vast majority of Americans that have coverage. But there is nothing in his past or his present that would lead anyone to think he has the spine to do it.
Republicans, for their part, shouldn’t be looking to reinvent the wheel here. Simple reforms, in the form of a simple bill, could be the PR coup they need. Real, simple reform needs to contain the following:
- Tort reform to make it cheaper to be a doctor will make medical care less expensive;
- the ability to buy plans across state lines will allow victims of a state like New Jersey to escape expensive plans due to excessive mandates;
- the ability of like businesses and individuals through civic organizations to band together to have more buying power, therefore obtain lower premiums;
- changing the tax code to treat the individual market the same as the employer provided one;
- refundable and advanceable tax credits for those that explicitly demonstrate need.
Only one of those reform proposals cost money, and only a little. While in a perfect world the government would stay out of the health insurance game, we don’t live in a perfect world. With Presidential leadership these minor tweaks could make a huge difference to all Americans without a massive infringement or take-over of a 1/7 of our economy. That’s assuming making heath insurance is more widely available and more affordable is the real goal, but that’s a question for another day...