Steve Benen has a great report and analysis on how substantive health care reform is swirling near the bottom of the bowl today. He helpfully reminds us of the old axiom about the making of sausage and why you don’t want to watch it. This process is no different. Taking that as a starting point, I don’t think it’s all that difficult for us to draw a few conclusions about the main stumbling blocks which are driving this thing off the rails.
1. It’s all about the Benjamins. On the GOP side, we don’t really need to call in Sherlock Holmes for this one. The simple fact that the proposal is something desired by the Democratic Party in general and President Obama specifically is more than enough reason for some Republicans to oppose it. But plenty more are genuinely worried about the cost. But here’s the secret: we won’t see a public admission, but Obama and the Dem leadership are more than literate enough to read the latest polls. Most Americans are beginning to panic about the mountain of debt that’s just dropped on us, coming in as the number one concern among voters in two recent polls. Once the OMB put a price tag of at least 1.5 trillion on the original scheme, they began seeing visions of their new congressional majority and ownership of the Oval Office evaporting in 2010 and 2012, respectively. A cheaper plan was needed to still make it look like “a win” as if they were actually doing something, but not throwing that much money at yet another problem. Any health care reform plan that has a trillion-dollar-plus price tag on it is now dead on arrival.
2. They hear their masters’ voices. Here’s one that you will never see showing up in a press conference on the Hill. How did the noxious bankruptcy bill pass so easily a couple of years ago? How do credit card companies and trial lawyers continue to get their way on financial regulation and limitations for nuisance suits, even when the “party of the people” is in charge? Because that’s who pays for the Beltway’s reindeer games. And nothing has changed just because Barack Obama was elected. If you think you’re going to get all of these people to vote for something that will drastically damage the profitability of an industry the size of the nation’s health insurance giants, you should write fantasy novels for a living. The people who fund these elections on both sides of the aisle are cracking their whips and the politicians (yes, some of your Democrats, too) are falling in line.
3. Greener pastures await. There are less ruinous plans which have already been put forward. Rather than a “public option” — which now looks to be about as dead as anything with a $1T plus price tag — lawmakers are looking at things like public cooperatives, started with federal seed money and requiring reasonable federal oversight. These should be similar in form to the credit unions, agricultural co-ops and energy buying commune plans which are available in my area. They should require far less tax money to implement and raise fewer hackles among Republicans worried about a single-payer system and public option.
President Obama’s honeymoon is effectively over now, and the period in which he can blame everything on his predecessors is rapidly shrinking. (For more, see “The President Who Fell to Earth from the Sky.”) He should be given full credit for attempting bold moves to address big problems, but every action will have consequences now. He is still well loved personally across the nation, but his plans are facing increasingly stiff headwinds, mostly because of the terrifying price tags involved. You’re going to get a “health care reform bill” this year, but at this point I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a paper tiger, with the primary goal of not having to admit to the Republicans that the Democrats have just been turned back on one of their centerpiece agenda items.