Speak Your Piece: Where Obama Went Wrong on Healthcare

[imgbelt img=baucusgrassley110th.jpg]Everybody wanted health care reform. So what happened?


Call to Action: Health Reform 2009. This November 2008 report was the result of nine hearings and a day-long summit on health care reform. Called the Baucus Plan — after the chairman, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana — it contained detailed recommendations that seemed to be in line with the thinking of the President and Daschle. The plan stated the belief that all stakeholders were ready and willing to engage in comprehensive reform. The plan made it clear that it was a starting point for dialogue and debate and was not to be a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. [imgcontainer left] [img:baucusgrassley110th.jpg] Obama might have done better if he had trusted the instincts of senators from rural states, such as Max Baucus of Montana (left) and Charles Grassley of Iowa.

I can’t help but feel that the White House ignored the Baucus plan because he and the ranking Republican on the committee, Senator Grassley from Iowa, were from rural states and didn’t have the clout with the President and his team that the elite East and West coast urban liberal Democrats held. This is symptomatic of the President’s first crucial mistake — assuming that his election was a mandate for a major shift to the left in the country. It was not. It was a repudiation of eight years of Bush and Cheney and it was a win by a person with tremendous charisma and a personality as big as the great outdoors. 

At this point the president made his second crucial mistake. Instead of handing the Baucus plan to House and Senate leadership as a place to start, he basically said, “We need health care reform; please go write something.” From that day forward he’s been trying to explain and sell a plan that does not yet exist.

Had Lyndon Johnson handled Medicare this way it would have never been enacted. This approach turned three House Committees and one Senate Committee loose to try to outdo each other in bringing out every idea held by any Democrat in the past thirty years and sticking them in a bill. My congressman, Ben Chandler, told an audience in Lexington, Kentucky, that “there is no actual bill for anybody to vote on.” This is an absurd position for a member of Congress to have to be in. 

The President’s third crucial mistake was to pick sides and start identifying villains. I learned this lesson in 1993 when Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones tried to tackle health care reform and was meeting with resistance on all sides. In one meeting he had a couple of political consultants in to offer advice on how to sell reform. One said, “Like James Carville says, pick a side.” The other said, “No, in this case your task is to equally offend everyone.” When President Obama decided to pick sides — with the House Democrats and against the insurance industry — he abandoned all hope of equally offending everyone while getting them all to give up something in return for the greater good. Imagine what would have happened in Europe at the end of World War II if President Truman had not worked with Republicans to create the Marshall Plan.

I will end here with another quote from Ron Sanders. I think he is totally right:

 “Obama really screwed up by tasking the plan to (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi and (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid.” I totally agree.

He continued: “Now I think this plan is in full retreat and all the time and energy spent thus far may prove to be a complete waste. Furthermore, Obama has spent a considerable amount of political capital that cannot be recovered. He has alienated the Republicans and will pay a price to get them engaged in bipartisan solutions at this late date. The Republicans are mad and now they smell blood in the water… and it ain’t their blood.”