The Best We Can Do
Jim VanDehei was on Mitchell this morning talking about his new article which evidently reports that Obama is going to twist arms today to make sure health care reform passes before Christmas. Mitchell asked him if (as Chuck Todd absurdly posited) Lieberman actually pulled back from the brink and decided not to blow up the Democratic party or if he is sitting pretty because he actually got exactly what he wanted:
VanDeHei I don't think there's any question that he got what he wanted. He's been able to kill, or help kill, the public option and now he's single handedly killed this Medicare expansion for people over the age of 55.
And so now what the president is doing is calling in Democrats in the Senate and saying "listen this is the last chance we have to get health care reform and if I fail, like Clinton failed, we're talking about generations before another Democratic president with this big of a majority can actually tackle health care reform". His case is going to be that if we don't do this in the next two weeks it's never going to be done.
The big question is, will that message pacify liberals? Liberal Democrats on the hill are saying "listen we wanted a single payer system or at least we wanted the public option or at least we wanted the medicare buy-in. Now we're getting squat on that end so what are we actually getting?"
Obama will say, you're actually getting a lot. You're getting coverage for everybody. You're getting insurance reform. And he's going to have to convince them that that is sufficient.
That doesn't make sense and if Obama is able to persuade liberals with that incoherent line of reasoning then he really is good and they really are stupid.
If this is the only chance for reform in generations, wouldn't it have made more sense to fight for a truly comprehensive bill that actually solved the problem? If you've only got one bite of the apple every couple of decades, it seems remarkably foolish not to really go for broke. To end up with a bill like this as your once in a generation liberal accomplishment is about as inspiring as a Bobby Jindal speech.
And Obama can say that you're getting a lot, but also saying that it "covers everyone," as if there's a big new benefit is a big stretch. Nothing will have changed on that count except changing the law to force people to buy private insurance if they don't get it from their employer. I guess you can call that progressive, but that doesn't make it so. In fact, mandating that all people pay money to a private interest isn't even conservative, free market or otherwise. It's some kind of weird corporatism that's very hard to square with the common good philosophy that Democrats supposedly espouse.
Nobody's "getting covered" here. After all, people are already "free" to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won't make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn't or didn't want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people's money against their will, saying it's for their own good. --- and doing it without even the cover that FDR wisely insisted upon with social security, by having it withdrawn from paychecks. People don't miss the money as much when they never see it.
And as for the idea that insurance reforms are a huge progressive victory that can only be accomplished once in a generation, well that's a pretty sad comment on our country --- and progressivism.
What this huge electoral mandate and congressional majority have gotten us, then, is basically a deal with the insurance industry to accept 30 million coerced customers in exchange for ending their practice of failing to cover their customers when they get sick --- unless they go beyond a "reasonable cap," of course. (And profits go up!) If that's the best we can expect of progressivism for the next generation then I'm afraid we are in deep trouble.
*I realize that the subsidies and the medicaid expansion are meaningful. But they are also going to be subject to ongoing funding battles in an age of deficit hysteria. I don't hold out much hope for any improvement on that count. Indeed, I fully expect they will be assailed as welfare and eliminated as soon as Republicans gain power. They have learned from their mistakes --- don't let any liberal "entitlement programs " become entrenched. That's why a big comprehensive program would have been better. It's much harder to disassemble.
Update: I think it's really cool being lectured to by Obama about not getting everything you want. I would imagine that Joe Liberman laughed and laughed and laughed at that one.