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Obama Digs In On Health Care

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President Obama’s speech to Congress on health care reform on Wednesday evening was well received by his activist base.  It was emotive, aggressive and overflowing with liberal sentiment.  But were these followers his target audience? 

The answer became clear the following day when secret meetings were held in the White House to cajole reluctant Democratic legislators to sign up for the floundering health care reform measures.  Given the balance of power in Congress, if all Democrats stick with him, President Obama only needs the support of one Republican Senator. But it is a big “if”.  

Democratic waverers may endorse many of the President’s health care objectives, but they also have to weigh their own re-electability.  Many know that signing up to a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy and further extending record budget deficits is not necessarily going to appeal to a majority of their voters fourteen months from now.  Opinion polls show that the reforms are supported by a shrinking minority of Americans. 

Obama’s speech amounted to a lengthy berating of their political caution, an embarrassing spectacle at the hands of their own President on prime time television. 

Inspire or retire?

Inspire or retire?

Republicans have been largely kept out of the health care bill writing.  It was his own party that the President was aiming at when he invoked the memory of Ted Kennedy and warned about timidity passing for wisdom.  “I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it.  If you misrepresent what’s in this plan, we will call you out.  I will not accept the status quo as a solution.” 

In other words, you’re with me or your against me; don’t dare choose the latter.  Is this the best way for a President to lobby his own foot soldiers in Congress? 

There was certainly little attempt to reach out to Congressional Republicans.  The tone was far from conciliatory.  The President dismissed all but one of the Republicans’ proposals, suggested their opposition was insincere and called certain criticisms a “lie”.  This is hardly the type of reaching out and togetherness that the President promised in the general election campaign.  It certainly didn’t sound like a deft attempt at compromise. 

If the strong arm Chicago tactics work and the recalcitrant Congressmen are tortured into submission (politically speaking, of course), the President will doubtless feel vindicated in his approach.  But now that he has shown his hand so openly, much rests politically on his ability to deliver. 

A good salesman identifies his target and tries to build empathy and trust.  The President seemed exasperated.  While politics is notoriously dirty, bullying and publicly humiliating Congressional partners just eight months into an Administration is a risky tactic.  Perhaps the President would have done better to define his health care goals in the first place and work with Congressional leaders to build a single bill rather than let matters drift. 

If the votes are not compiled in Congress and a much watered down health care reform results, how will Wednesday evening’s salesmanship come to be viewed by Democratic Congressmen and by the wider public?  Will this speech be seen as a crucial moment of failure in the President’s term of office?  Will health care, as Republican Senator Jim DeMint predicted, become the President’s Waterloo? 

The President inspired his followers but this speech and these tactics could retire his Congressional comrades come November 2010.

2 Comments add one

  1. Carl M says:

    Interesting that he sees things so black and white… you’re for me or against me.. and he seems like he’s generally pissed off that he isn’t getting his way. What’s more is he doesn’t really feel the need to explain himself. He’s a pretty cocky/arrogant guy… That didn’t work well for the last president.. He got labeled as a ‘warmonger’ pretty quickly after making decisions on his own.

    I sure wish he’d site the socialized medical care systems that have worked for other countries… but what’s that? There aren’t any? well crud. Maybe it’ll work in the US since the US is in such a great position financially to try new things!

  2. JoeB says:

    Fuzzy math
    In his speech to congress President Obama calls for a public option which, combined with a federally administered healthcare exchange, will cost a trillion $$ and will, according to his estimates, only, and only attract 5% of the population. That’s a lot of money to spend for 5% of our population. In his speech he decried the fact that one insurance company in Alabama (Blue Cross, a non-profit by the way) has 90% share of all the insurance business and so a public option was needed to keep greedy, profit oriented companies honest. A 5% share won’t do anything to erode Blue Cross of Alabama’s market share so what’s the real reason for the public option? I think the answer is eventual Government control of healthcare.
    Mr Obama also made the case that a mandate is needed to force all Americans who can afford health insurance must buy health insurance. His rationale is that these people are freeloaders because they force premiums up for others to cover their free healthcare they receive in the ER. The reality is that people are billed for their ER visit whether or not they have insurance. People with the means will pay their bill just as they do their cable TV bill or a collection agency comes after them. In only a few major medical cases is it likely that a middle class American without health insurance not be able to pay their bill without suffering undue financial burden. A large component of people who use the ER without insurance are illegal immigrants – want to lower health care costs, secure our borders.
    It is fascinating that President Obama continues to couch this debate as a crisis. But when you consider the results of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) the 2006 costs aren’t as debilitating as one would think. Looking at one population (ages 44-65) in 2006 25% of people had a maximum annual expenditure of $385 or less and the median expenditure was $1627 or less. The average cost of a medical office visit was $207 (I know people who pay more for Cable TV monthly) and an emergency room visit was $947. These aren’t the numbers of a crisis. Of course averages don’t mean anything to someone with a chronic disease like diabetes or who suffers a traumatic car accident or suffers a stroke or heart attack. The costs associated with these events can be financially debilitating but that is what insurance is for – or at least used to be. The real culprit of rising healthcare is that today people have a tendency to go to the doctor for any minor complaint which drives up expenditures but doesn’t improve outcomes. Why not go to the doc when you have a cold? It’s free, or almost so, because today our insurance covers routine checkups and tests with at worst a minor co-pay. Healthcare, like bread in the USSR, has no value if you don’t pay for it. Let’s reform healthcare by bringing back major Medical insurance combined with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs). This will cover the vast number of Americans. Expanded Medicaid can cover the poor who can’t afford insurance.