President Obama failed to offer any path to break the Congressional stalemate over health care reform in his address last night, simply offering another rallying cry for his signature domestic policy initiative and repeating talking points he’s made in countless speeches all year.
The president says people would like his plan if only they understood it. But the American people do understand it, and they don’t like it. The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll taken last week found 69 percent of Americans want Congress to either draft a new bill or drop the issue altogether.
Congress is at war with itself over the best way to proceed after Massachusetts transformed the political landscape, and to make any progress, President Obama needed to do a lot more than restate the problem.
Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, crystallized the dilemma, saying: “The Republicans are our opposition. The Senate is our enemy.”
The president and Congressional leaders spent last weekend desperately trying to convince House Democrats to pass the Senate health bill, with a promise the Senate would use the 51-vote reconciliation process to fix it.
But that means asking House Democrats to vote for the Cornhusker Kickback, a tax on high-cost health plans without labor union exemptions, and dozens of other provisions they hate.
Yesterday, the House came up with a package of fixes it wants the Senate to make. Price tag: $300 billion. Senators were aghast and felt the House was preparing to blame them should health reform fail.
The president challenged anyone to come up with a better plan. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell did just that in his response, calling for cross-state purchasing of health insurance, a reform that University of Minnesota economists Stephen Parente and Roger Feldman found would not cost the federal government a penny but would mean 12 million more people would be insured.
There you have it, Mr. President, a better plan.
Published in The New York Times: Room for Debate, Jan. 28, 2010.