What Health Care Debate?

Economist CoverNate Silver has a post up at FiveThirtyEight grading the Democrats efforts to learn from the mistakes of Clinton-care in selling a health plan. Spoiler alert: he gives out a lot of Fs.

Here’s the CliffsNotes of the CliffsNotes version (emphasis his):

Until the Democrats have a plan, they are unlikely to gain ground with the public on health care reform.

If some iteration of health care reform doesn’t pass in 2009, that will be the reason why. Because while it wasn’t unexpected to see a number of competing versions floating around the House and Senate — there is, after all, the bipartisan crowd to appeal to, not to mention moderate Democrats — you’d think that by now we’d have a front-runner of sorts, in the form of either a bill or at least a consensus on major elements.

Instead, we have an awful lot of unresolved questions. Is single payer on the table? Is a public option non-negotiable for the powers that be? Is it politically viable to tax employer-based plans, or is rolling back the Bush cuts early the preferred method of revenue-raising? How is any of this going to fix the funding precipice Medicare is barreling toward?

Is anyone surprised that public opposition for Democrat health care is growing (chart, via 538)

Caught in the middle of this is a man who campaigned heavily — and did well against his opponent — on the issue of health care. So where exactly is President Obama on the health care front?

He’s given his share of speeches, sure, but his fairly detailed plans for health care reform during election season appear to have been forgotten. I don’t intend for this post to advocate such a plan, necessarily, but it is odd that Obama would adopt a largely hands-off role now that the form of that legislation is at its most uncertain.

Now, there are any number of good explanations for his “figure-it-out-yourselves” message to Congress. His poll numbers have been slipping as unemployment has ticked up, and a plurality now think his health care plan, vague though it is, will actually make things worse. And there is something to be said for handling Congress with kid gloves. It might be wise not to alienate Reid, Pelosi and those on the health committees with a my-way-or-the-highway health care proposal in year one of his presidency, thereby undermining their ability to negotiate with moderates or Republicans.

But do those considerations really outweigh the perils of continued uncertainty? To put it another way, if tax increases are coming down the pipe one way or another, wouldn’t an Obama-endorsed pill be an easier swallow for the hesitant swing senator and the public at large?


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About the Author

Brian Eason is a University of Missouri graduate with bachelor degrees in Journalism and Political Science. He has covered Congressional elections and local government for the Columbia Missourian and worked as a general assignment reporter for the State Journal-Register in Springfield, IL. Brian has also had articles published in Roll Call.

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