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Sep 14 2009

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The Opposition’s Response

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  • Timelessly, the first work days after Labor Day are often filled with talk of how fast the summer passed.
  • But judging from President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress last week, August didn’t happen at all; or at least the Administration and leading Democrats have dismissed the overflowing passion of town hall meetings across the country in opposition to the flash point in Obama governance – health care.
  • Eloquent as always, the President pressed ahead in his second congressional address in seven months with the outlines of a plan that still incorporates most of what the Democrats have written in their various bills to date, as if he was still enjoying approval ratings in the 70s and had agreement on large swaths of text.
  • Devoid of the cheap-shot partisanship that lumped objections to Obama-care into “bogus claims,” and the tug at the heart strings through a posthumous letter from the late Senator Kennedy on the “moral” nature of health care, it could have been any of the other 111 speeches Obama has delivered on heath care to date.  There was nothing game changing here.
  • There were a few marginal annotations. POTUS threw a few crumbs to Republicans by promising Tort Reform demonstration projects. And apparently someone at the White House has actually read the bill now.
  • Obama used to say that if you like your health insurance you can keep it.  Now he says, “nothing will require you or your employer to change coverage,” recognizing that for some businesses, the 8% tax for not providing health care to employees is cheaper that providing health insurance, thus dumping their employees involuntarily into the dreaded public option.
  • Republican Representative Joe Wilson created a spectacle and shamed not only himself, and his office, but his Party in calling the President a “liar” in the middle of Presidential address. There is simply no place for that kind of behavior when you are seated during a presidential address to Congress.
  • If anything can be said in poor Joe Wilson’s defense, his unseemly outburst was, in fact, in response to a statement by Obama debunking the notion that the bill will cover illegal immigrants.
  • Gone unsaid in the Democratic uproar over Wilson’s lack of courtesy and basic respect for the Office of the President is the fact that two amendments offered by Republicans, specifically stating that the bill would not enable health care for illegal immigrants or for abortions were decisively defeated by Democrats.  If it’s not the purpose, why not put it in?
  • But as Democrats huff in indignation at Wilson (laughable given their utter public contempt for President Bush and genuinely ugly terms used to describe him), leave Team Obama and the Democrats with a much  bigger problem; a health care plan they insist upon just doesn’t add up, financially or intellectually – and the public knows it.
  • This health care effort is not, metaphorically, a sturdy house simply in need of a coat of paint.  This is the “fixer-upper” that no sane person would buy. Obama himself flails about in the confusion.
  • POTUS stated – apparently without irony – that, “consumers do better when there is choice and competition.”  Yet he also said that most of the cost of health care reform will come from Medicare and Medicaid, from canceling the very programs that provide seniors with a semblance of private sector choice now.
  • And honestly, does anybody remotely familiar with the workings of the federal government believe that $500 billion in waste, fraud and abuse will be identified, corrected and booked?  That’s an amount of waste equal to the annual GDP of Turkey.  One need only look at mounting evidence of abuse in February’s Stimulus bill to see the trusty custodians of our hard earned tax dollars in action.
  • And as our medical Elliott Ness’s go to work, does anyone realistically believe that any changes wouldn’t end up rationing senior care?
  • Obama had the chance to do it differently. He could have come out with Senator Kennedy’s call for health reform first and then boldly adopted Republican positions as a quid pro quo of Democratic positions, and dare the Republicans to oppose what would be a bipartisan bill.
  • But as previous posts have shown, Obama has no history of bipartisanship unless it is defined as opposition Party members agreeing with Obama. Hence, crumbs for Republicans as Obama tries to reconcile the moderates and liberals of his own Party.
  • It is here, short of some unforeseen breakthrough, that a bill will be passed by the narrowest of majorities – by Democrats alone – that will reorder 1/6th of the US economy.
  • By contrast, the Bush administration’s effort to create a prescription drug benefit – controversial in its time – passed 54-44 in the Senate with ten Democratic votes along with some of the most conservative Republicans in the Chamber. As previously noted, the “divisive” Bush tax cuts passed the Senate with over 60 votes and were also bipartisan.
  • Forget majorities for a moment; legitimacy is becoming an issue on health care reform and its passage.
  • A very nice Republican Representative, Charles Boustany, who also happens to be a doctor, gave the GOP response to Obama’s address, matter-of-factly pointing out the plethora of market-based solutions that can solve the problems of insurance and cost that Obama identified without creating a massive new government bureaucracy.
  • But the real response to Obama came three days later when tens of thousands of people descended on the Capitol in a peaceful if occasionally raucous demonstration against a range of Obama policy initiatives, but plainly lead by health care.
  • I was there.
  • These were citizens from all over the US. They were good humored, well behaved and extraordinary only in their ordinariness as American citizens.
  • Many were attending the first political rally of their lives. They seemed almost as mad at the “do nothing” Republicans as they were with Obama’s governance.
  • One man I engaged told me, “I am here [from Pennsylvania] because there is no one in Washington who represents me, so I’ve got come speak for myself.”
  • The Democrats who dismissed the town hall meetings were quick to dismiss the rally as well as some form of fringe movement, out of the mainstream. This is a crucial mistake. These folks weren’t goons; I couldn’t find anyone who had been paid to come.  The signs were home-made and hilarious in many cases.  These were not conservative counterparts to the SEIU, ACORN and other paid, Democratic trouble makers who stir trouble through protest.
  • This is a genuine grass roots movement that Obama and the Democrats ignore at their peril.

 

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