Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why losing would be better for President Obama than compromising too much

On Shirley's advice [wow--Shirley in this post and Chainsaw in the previous one--this is becoming a curmudgeonly night) i have visited Keith Hennessey. I am going to have to give up my Biggest Wonk hat.

Anyway, Keith makes a long and convincing argument that the shift in language from health care reform to health insurance reform does not signify an attempt by President Obama to carve out a fallback plan by which he could "declare victory" with a reduced plan that only reforms insurance and does not provide a public option:

Other than the shift in communications strategy, I see no other signs of a change in strategy by the President or his team. They do not appear to be preparing for a health-insurance-only fallback bill.

I cannot see how one would make such a bill work in practice. You need the individual mandate, the subsidies, and offsets to make it work as a policy matter.

Even if you could make the policy work, going with a narrower insurance-only bill would not work through reconciliation, so you don’t buy yourself a big procedural benefit.

I disagree with those who say this is a new strategy. It’s a new message to try to sell the same strategy, and with the same desired policy outcome as we’ve seen over the past few months.


Let's assume Hennessey is right for the moment. If so, you can expect to see the President not only double-down on his insistence that health care pass now, but double-down again in early to mid-September.

Why? Because, as a purely political prediction, Barack Obama can better afford to lose this fight than to "declare victory" on a compromise that does not give him a strong public option.

If he doesn't get a strong public option and tries to sell the resulting bill as meaningful reform, he will lose all the single-payer advocates to his left who are already feeling sold out.

If he doesn't get a strong public option and tries to sell the resulting bill as meaningful reform, conservatives will claim victory and he will have been emasculated by the Blue Dogs.

But if, instead, he insists on a strong public option or nothing--even trotting out the "veto" word if it looks like sufficient Democrats are saying either compromise or we can't promise you more than 55 votes, then Barack Obama has a chance to win by losing.

He can transform himself back into the leftist-populist anti-Washington outsider President who has fought the good fight for the people, and who is going to pick himself up and continue. Obviously, he'll tell the folks back home, we haven't elected enough Democrats who understand the necessity for real health reform. We need 65 votes in the Senate. We need another dozen Democrats in the House. It's going to be tough, but today is the day we start on the 2010 elections because I won't let health reform die.

Then he goes back to a "do nothing" Congress controlled by his own party and says, If you won't give me the whole thing, give me the pieces. And he starts incremental reform....

This is why I agree with Keith Hennessey: at a certain point, losing on health care reform this year is a better political option for Barack Obama than giving away too much to get a compromise.

4 comments:

Bowly said...

Obviously, he'll tell the folks back home, we haven't elected enough Democrats who understand the necessity for real health reform. We need 65 votes in the Senate. We need another dozen Democrats in the House.

I just love Democrats. They have the White House, the House of Representatives, a virtually filibuster-proof Senate, a President who preempts the top-rated show on TV, and a bunch of opponents that think Sarah Palin is a standard bearer. And yet they're being shouted down. They're like bad Scooby-Doo villains. "If it weren't for those meddling kids..."

Hube said...

They're like bad Scooby-Doo villains. "If it weren't for those meddling kids..."

ROTFLMAO!! That's awesome ... thanks for the gut-buster!

BTW Steve -- WTF is up with this comment spam? Even with the word verification?

Mike W. said...

Steve - I'm getting the same exact comment spam.

downwithabsolutes said...

Re: the comment spam.

They're EVOLVING! Soon, they will become self-aware. I'm stocking up on bottled water and beef jerky.

Seriously, though, that is really bizarre.