Wednesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs denied the premise of a New York Times article, which is that Democrats have all but abandoned hope for Republican votes in the health care fight and are planning a go-it-alone approach come September.
We’ve seen this two-step before. In today’s version, “top Democrats,” presumably including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who is quoted in the story, suggest Team Obama is ready to pass a bill with just Democratic votes. Earlier this month, it was Sen. Charles Schumer who said Senate Democrats were preparing to pass a health care bill using the so-called “reconciliation” process, which would allow them to do so with a simple majority instead of sixty votes. In both instances, denials quickly followed that the Democrats were abandoning bipartisanship in health care.
What’s really going on here? Is this yet another sign of Democratic disarray on health care? Or is it simply a premeditated bad cop/good cop routine aimed at scaring moderate Republicans into agreeing to something soon, or else? That’s the hypothesis of John Podhoretz in this post, and he’s probably right.
The bottom-line question is this: can Congressional Democrats pass a sweeping and controversial takeover of American health-care on their own? Here’s a clue to the likely answer: if they could, that would have been plan A. Why bother talking with political opponents if you could pass the next New Deal without them?
Nothing is certain of course, but it should be obvious to all concerned that Obamacare is not inevitable, and never was. Most Americans do not want to hand over total control of U.S. health care to the federal government, and that is the central premise of the bills now being written in Congress. Beyond that, the bills are highly controversial for many other important reasons, any one of which is enough to sink the entire effort. The massive, $1 trillion-plus price tag, even as the government is already piling up debt at a record pace. New taxes and mandates on employers which stifle hiring and job growth, which is the number one concern of most voters. The regressive requirements on low wage workers to buy government-approved insurance. The one-size-fits-all regulatory scheme. The prospect of government-driven rationing of care. None of this is popular.
Then there are the “pay fors.” In addition to massive tax hikes, House and Senate leaders are looking at $400 to $500 billion in cuts in Medicare to pay for their ambitious plans. Whatever else might be said about this month’s town halls, it should be obvious by the reactions of large numbers of senior citizens that deep cuts in Medicare to pay for “universal coverage” will generate significant political heat, to put it mildly. Are rank and file Democrats really prepared to carry that political baggage into 2010?
The public is sending unmistakable signals that they want their elected leaders to drop the controversial provisions and pursue consensus and targeted reforms instead. So far, it appears the Obama White House and Congressional Democrats are ignoring what’s being said and are hoping to scare Republicans into helping them pass a government takeover as originally planned. If Republicans simply hold firm in unified opposition, it is much more likely the public will, in the end, get a bill that’s tolerable, or that nothing at all will pass.