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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Can the Healthcare Reform Debate be Shocked Back to Sanity?

No one would argue that August has been good for the cause of healthcare reform. There was some momentum on the side of reform in July, but Harry Reid decided that Republicans were right -- we had to wait until September to take up the issue again. Rather than work through the August recess, the Senate would go home to their districts, put on their thinking caps, and give this all some serious thought.

"It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through," Reid said. It was at this point that things took a turn for the stupid. "Quality and thoughtfulness" were a no-show. What we got was lunacy and lies. Republicans decided this would be a good time to lose their damned minds and Blue Dog Democrats decided it would be a good time to pretend to be Republicans. Nothing that's happened over the past five weeks had to happen. But Senate majority leader Harry Reid took his hands off the wheel and the car predictably veered off the road and into the ditch.

See, this was supposed to be the summer of bipartisan love. The Senate Finance Committee's Gang of Six was supposed to knock something out. "The decision was made to give them more time and I don't think it's unreasonable," Reid said. But the Gang of Six has barely met at all. Instead, led by the two-faced Chuck Grassley, Republicans in the gang have done everything in their power to derail the whole project. To a certain extent, they've succeeded.

Yay for the visionary leadership of Harry Freakin' Reid...

While it's tempting to lay all the blame for the basket case that the healthcare debate has become on the shoulders of the minority leader, President Obama has to shoulder his share. You don't hand off your most ambitious project to congressional leadership who've already proved their incompetence by rolling over every time George W. Bush asked them to. And that's exactly what he did. Seeking to avoid the problems Clinton faced in his failed healthcare reform push, Obama decided to present goals, rather than legislation. Congress would reach those goals under their own steam and the White House would sit back and watch the garden grow.

And, of course, congressional leadership blew it. For his part, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus screwed up his very first step by declaring a single-payer plan -- similar to Canada's -- off the table. It wouldn't even be discussed. And this left democrats without any fallback position. The public option is the compromise between a great system and the status quo, but Baucus made it the starting point of negotiations -- practically guaranteeing that Republicans and Blue Dogs who like things just fine the way they are would attack it. Had Max Baucus been a general in WWII, we'd all be speaking Japanese today, desu ka? Mostly because he would've tried to fly the entire US military to Tokyo for a single, do-or-die battle.

It's tempting to say that Obama watched this August Bonfire of the Idiocies burn without doing anything about it. But that wouldn't be true. Greg Sargent points us to a piece by the neocon columnist Fred Barnes mapping out just what Obama has done:

Between July 20 and July 30, President Obama was a busy man, barely out of the public eye while campaigning furiously for his health care initiative. He did four town hall events, spoke at two hospitals, delivered a radio address, was interviewed on two network TV news shows, and held a prime time press conference–all devoted to promoting his health care plan. On this issue as on no other, Obama personally took his case to the people.

And this has gone on through August. But the media has, for whatever reason, declared the president irrelevant on this issue and his efforts haven't gotten a lot of press. What's newsworthy is ratings-based, not reality-based; given a choice between a reasoned case for healthcare reform and a fruitloop with a gun who's screaming that Obama's a socialist -- like Hitler -- it really isn't much of a choice. Crazy, historically-challenged Hitler guy gets the camera time.

So the president has finally concluded that he has to force the media to pay attention. Like congressional leadership, news organizations can't be counted on to do their jobs. Where Reid and Baucus failed to think even a half-step ahead, the media can't be counted on to inform. A CBS News poll found recently that all this coverage of crazy people has surprisingly failed to inform many people at all. According to that poll, only 31% say they aren't confused about the issue. The rest of us have no idea what the hell is going on. Great job there, CBS News. You've managed to put out a poll proving you suck.

Failed by the media and Democratic leadership, Barack Obama is finally going to try to get this runaway train back on the rails.


President Barack Obama will address a joint session of Congress on health care reform in prime time on Wednesday, Sept. 9, a senior official tells POLITICO.

Obama will receive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at the White House the day before for a previously scheduled sit-down.

The last time a president addressed a joint session of Congress that wasn’t a State of the Union, or the traditional first address by a new president, was Sept. 20, 2001, when President George W. Bush spoke on the war on terrorism following the 9/11 attacks.

The reports are that the president will lay down what the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder calls "deal-breakers." Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like a public option is one of those deal-breakers. That's the bad news.

The good news is that, in a separate post, Ambinder reports that the White House is considering a "trigger" which would kick in a public option if whatever alternative to it the senate cooks up fails to bring down costs -- which anything else would be almost certainly fail to do. But a backdoor public option isn't likely to fool defenders of the status quo, who are already floating the idea that non-profit co-ops -- the leading alternative to a public option -- are identical to a public option. So that "good news" isn't as good as you'd first assume. It's a retreat that opponents will pretend isn't a retreat at all.

As he goes into congress next week, President Obama will find the healthcare reform debate has become a babbling lunatic. This thing has been mismanaged from the get-go and it's going to take a Herculean effort to get it back into the realm of sanity.

This better be one hell of a speech.


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