Tuesday, July 28, 2009


A Politico story on health care today is headlined "Key Democratic provisions fading fast":

Bipartisan negotiations on the Senate Finance Committee are moving closer to eliminating two health care provisions favored by many Democrats -- a mandate on employers to provide insurance or pay a penalty, and a government insurance option, a senator and health care insiders said Monday.

This follows a story in yesterday's New York Times that said the health-care bills working through Congress aren't doing enough to make health insurance affordable for middle-class people:

In a letter to Congress last week, advocates for patients -- including AARP, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association -- said the affordability of insurance was "of paramount importance."

After analyzing the leading House and Senate bills, Stephen E. Finan, a health economist at the cancer society, said, "Subsidies do not appear to be adequate even for coverage in the lowest-cost plans."

"Under the bill approved by the Senate health committee," Mr. Finan said, "a family with annual income of $40,000 could obtain subsidies, but would still have to pay premiums of $1,760 a year and might have to pay as much as $2,320 in co-payments and deductibles, for a total of $4,080, or 10 percent of family income. And they might have to pay more if they use specialists outside the network of doctors in their health plan."

Is this even worth it? Is it even worth fighting to pass a compromised, inadequate bill?

Beyond the sincere desire to do something to change a clearly inadequate status quo, the president is presumed to be motivated by the belief that his presidency depends on getting a bill passed -- if he fails, nearly everyone believes, he's toast.

What if the opposite is the case? What if bailing on this would save Obama's presidency?

What if the history of Bill Clinton's presidency wouldn't repeat itself in the event of a defeat (possibly because failing on health care wasn't the real reason Democrats lost Congress in 1994)?

I look at Barack Obama's poll numbers and he seems to be remarkably popular on everything except the economy and health care (and there are tentative signs of hope on the economy -- rising stock prices, improved home sales). On other measures?

He understands the problems of people like you: 63% yes, 35% no.
He is a strong leader: 71% yes, 27% no.
He has brought needed change to Washington: 62% yes, 35% no.
He is a good commander in chief of the military: 56% yes, 37% no.

(All that is from the latest Washington Post/ABC poll.)

It seems to me that health care is a millstone around Obama's neck. It's dragging his ratings down. It's worth risking a decline in popularity for a really good bill, but if it's not a really good bill, what's the point?

The GOP and right-wing pundits and Blue Dogs and centrist MSM bloviators have all sent out the word that whatever Obama endorses is toxic. So if he doesn't sign a bill at all, how does that poison him? Shouldn't it do the opposite?

Think of other examples. Polls showed that John McCain struggled with the GOP electorate through much of 2007. A lot of them really didn't like his immigration stand. But the immigration bill died in the summer of '07 -- and within a few months the McCain campaign was back from the dead.

Here in New York City four years ago, Mike Bloomberg was struggling in polls, at a time when he was supporting a proposed Manhattan football stadium that was deeply unpopular -- voters thought it would be too expensive and a traffic nightmare in a crowded borough that already had plenty of development. Eventually Bloomberg abandoned the notion of a Manhattan stadium (which was also part of a plan to lure the 2012 Olympics to New York) -- and his poll numbers improved dramatically. The Manhattan stadium plan failed, the Olympic bid failed -- and Bloomberg went on to win reelection that fall in a blowout.

I'm oversimplifying the McCain and Bloomberg stories -- but they do show that pivoting away from signature issues on which you're struggling with voters can work. The Clinton paradigm isn't the only one. And who's more likely to be able to move vigorously to other signature issues than Obama?

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