Fein: At last: Obama takes on health care reform

Jordan Fein

On Thursday, Feb. 25, after a year of equivocation, President Barack Obama finally took ownership of the issue that will define whether his first term has been a success.

Before now, Obama has only offered vague goals any bill would have to meet in order for it to receive his signature. Reform would have to “lower costs, improve quality and coverage and protect consumer choice,” Obama said in an address on June 6.

But does Obama support a public option? Does he favor a surtax on the wealthy or removing the tax exemption for employer-provided insurance plans? Does he favor an expansion of Medicare to Americans younger than 65 years old?

Obama’s refusal to draw lines in the sand has enabled each successive Democratic health care proposal to be washed away by the tide of committed Republican opposition.

Obama expertly diagnosed the problems with our existing health care system, convincing Americans the status quo is not acceptable. But after this, Obama left the dirty work of finding solutions to Congress.

Progressives who had invested so much into Obama’s campaign found it difficult to support a new president who seemed unsure of what he really wanted, and Obama’s refusal to put his full support behind any individual Democratic proposal made it easier for conservatives to rally against health care reform.

As Congressional Democrats wrote plan after plan, none of which have landed at Obama’s desk for a final signature, self-imposed deadlines for health care reform came and went. The House took until Nov. 7 to pass its version of health care reform, and the Senate until Dec. 24.

Obama finally told Americans on Thursday how we should go about reforming our broken health care system. The Obama proposal is very similar to that passed by the Senate, with no public option, national insurance exchange or Stupak language restricting access to abortions.

The plan would provide new insurance coverage for 31 million Americans at a cost of $950 billion and reduce the deficit by $100 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO has reported bills with a public option, such as the version passed by the House, would cover more Americans while decreasing the deficit to a greater extent.

This effort may be too little, too late. Obama received no increase in support for his health care proposal following the health care summit.

With Republicans unified against reform, it seems like the only option for passing this bill would be through the use of budget reconciliation in the Senate, and Americans are against this as well. Regardless, the Democrats must embrace this course, as not passing reform would be disastrous both for the country and for the party going into the 2010 midterm elections.

It’s hard not to look back on the past year and ask what would have happened if Obama had worked more closely with Congress on a specific plan from the outset.

If Obama’s current reform passes, it will be a step in the right direction, but we could have done so much better.

Weinberg junior Jordan Fein can be reached at [email protected]