As we speed toward reconciliation of the House and Senate version of the healthcare reform bill that Americans don't want, it's a useful time to look at the bigger picture of the Obama Administration's eventful first year. It isn't a pretty picture.
Healthcare reform, which wasn’t even a central focus of the Obama campaign early in his pursuit of the Democratic nomination, has become his central focus. As Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote recently, “[Obama] wanted a health-care bill. Why? To cover the uncovered. Maybe. To rein in the insurance companies. Maybe. To lower costs. Maybe. What mattered most was getting a bill, any bill. This is not a cause. It’s a notch on a belt.”
A year after he became our President, Americans still aren’t sure what Obama believes. We don’t know his passions—what drives him. Even in the case of healthcare reform, he seems more driven by desire for a big victory than the hope of a reformed system. Why does this matter? Because pursuing a bill at any cost is standing in the way of the reforms we really need. I outlined the areas of healthcare that major reform should address in columns here and here. This bill won’t do much to help the current system, but it will introduce a massive new entitlement program that our children and our children’s children will pay dearly for. Anyone who believes the latest Congressional Budget Office estimate that reform will be “budget neutral” should look no further than Medicare and Medicaid.
This strange pursuit of a bill at any cost is having dire consequences for a President who by the day loses big chunks of the massive approval he once had. The consequences are worse for a Democratic party that appears lost at sea and at odds with the constituents they were elected to represent. How many Senators and Representatives who will vote for the reconciled House-Senate bill believe they are truly representing their constituency?
What we are witnessing is nothing short of the fastest meltdown from a majority party in as long as anyone can remember. The political strategies that served Obama well in Chicago haven’t held up to the scrutiny of the national media, even one that seemingly spent 6 months in a sort of honeymoon haze, but has since awoken and has been reporting heavily on the back-door deal-making, the buyoffs to win individual votes, and the heavy lobbying that the President condemned during his campaign.
Because the Democrats enjoy a filibuster-proof majority (for now), we’re going to get a bill we don’t want. Any old bill will do. In the messy wake of this bill, the notion that this Administration is bringing “Change we can believe in” has evaporated. At this time last year, just after the inauguration, I wrote, “Whether or not you voted for President Obama, it’s hard to imagine someone watching the inauguration ceremony without feeling a sense of hope and optimism. It was, indeed, a historic day, and perhaps it is the beginning of a new culture in Washington.”
Mike Hennessy is Chairman and CEO of MJH & Associates. Click here for more Hennessy's Highlights