Monday, June 15, 2009

The political stakes of health care reform...

... are becoming more clear (and yet more murky) as we inch into the summer.

The NYT points out that President Obama is risking more credibility on this reform than President Clinton did--and thus stands to win or lose bigger than Bubba did:

There are reasons to be pessimistic: a history of six decades of failure; a sharp partisan divide; the need to enact tax and cost-control measures that will force some pain before any gain; the inevitable peeling off of various interest groups that have been part of private deliberations; and the inherent difficulty of changing something that is 17 percent of the American economy and of personal concern to most citizens.

Yet failure is an option the Obama White House can ill afford. The president believes reforming health care will be his legacy. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff and a former top House legislator who will be critical in cutting deals, knows the political consequences might be even more grave than they were in 1994 for President Bill Clinton, whom he also served.

Today the news comes that Senator Joe Lieberman--both a thorn in the side of the administration and a critical Senate vote--will not support the public option:

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said this weekend that he opposes a public option plan for consumers in a healthcare reform plan to emerge from the Senate.

"I don't favor a public option," Lieberman told Bloomberg News in an interview broadcast this weekend. And I don't favor a public option because I think there's plenty of competition in the private insurance market."

Lieberman's decision joins several other centrist Democrats' decision to have publicly refused to back the plan, derided as a "government-run" plan by Republicans.

Centrist Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) have also been skittish to back the public option, which is favored by liberal Democrats and the Obama administration. If Republicans are able to pick off enough Democrats, they may be able to muster enough votes to filibuster any legislation that includes the public option.

Meanwhile, as Nancy reports at Delaware Way, Americans are far from having reached a consensus on supporting such reform:

Rasmussen reports ~ 41% Favor Government Health Insurance Plan, 44% Opposed

Most voters also oppose making health insurance mandatory for all Americans.

Still, two-thirds (65%) believe that every single American should have access to quality health care. Twenty-two percent (22%) disagree, and 12% are not sure.

Does the President have the political muscle and the popular support to push through significant rather than cosmetic changes in the American health care system [which is a completely separate question from whether such reform should succeed]?

We seem to be right at the tipping point, and given the stakes don't be surprised if both President Obama and the GOPers keep ratcheting up the political rhetoric through the summer--usually at the expense of real discussion of what should be done.

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