Published in National Review Online: Critical Condition, August 7, 2009
It is clear that President Obama's vision of change for our health sector is in big trouble, with the American people showing their frustration and fear about the sweeping overhaul he is pushing.
The president has little choice but to throttle back his plans, and the suggestion of his health-care czar, Nancy Ann De Parle, that he would be willing to compromise on the "public plan" is yet another indication of a retreat. Creation of a new government health-insurance program to compete with private plans has been one of the lightning rods of opposition to the plan.
This latest trial balloon follows on the president's rhetorical shift last week in calling for "health-insurance reform," an effort to show that he is planning more modest changes to our health sector.
But Democrats will not easily let go of the public plan: Labor unions are hugely invested in its passage, and Democrats are relying on the unions' resources in activism and advertising to help pass the president's legislation. So if the White House does soften its demand that any health-reform plan must contain a strict public plan, it will have to answer to the Left that has, at least, so far, been very unwilling to compromise on this issue.
I've never seen anything like the anxiety about health reform that is erupting in town-hall meetings around the country. To say this is manufactured or organized by anybody totally misses the point of the genuine fear that people are trying to get across to their legislative representatives.
On this point alone, I agree with New York Times columnist Paul Krugman who writes today that he "can't find any [previous] examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds." But Krugman, like many supporters of a much larger role for government in our health sector, is panicking that this may spell the end for sweeping health-reform plans.
The White House has been accused and ridiculed for setting up a war room effort to track the "misinformation" that is being circulated about its health reform plans, inviting supporters to send in reports of "fishy" stories to email@example.com. This is discomforting to citizens who simply want to speak their minds without feeling that Big Brother is watching.
Some members of Congress are responding to the outrage by cancelling their town-hall meetings and inviting one-on-one meetings in their offices instead, or by holding town-hall meetings by telephone where they are easier to control.
The thing to remember is this: Legislation has passed four out of five key committees in Congress that would establish a new government-run health-insurance program, impose mandates on employers and individuals to get and pay for health coverage, dramatically expand Medicaid, and impose strict new federal regulation of the health insurance market. The president surely will sign anything that Congress sends him. And he wants to sign a bill this year. The American people see this steamrolling ahead.
It is very likely too late for the president to shift his stance on reform. The American people are reading the bill, even if members of Congress aren't, and they don't like what they see.