Marketplace Scratch Pad

Once more into the breach

Scott Jagow Feb 22, 2010

The president is fighting ’til the bitter end on health care reform. Today, he unveiled his own $950 billion health care legislation. So not only do we have competing bills in the House and Senate, there’s yet another proposal for Congress to bicker over.

The president’s plan is posted on the White House website. It’s pretty similar to the Senate bill passed on Christmas Eve, with a few notable changes. The special deal for Nebraska, where the federal government would pay for a full expansion of Medicaid in that state, is gone. Instead, the government would help all states deal with the cost of Medicaid expansion for the first three years, starting in 2014.

The president also went with the Senate’s approach on paying for reform, notably the increase in the payroll tax for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples earning more than $250,000. But he delays the tax on high-end health care (“Cadillac Plans”) until 2018.

And seemingly in response to significant rate hikes proposed by insurance companies in California, the president would give the federal government new powers over insurance rate increases, even though the states are supposed to have that authority already. More on the bill from the New York Times:

In one sense, the release of the bill marks an extraordinary reversal for a president who has long said he would leave legislating to the legislators. Mr. Obama made clear from the outset of the health care debate that he would not follow the footsteps of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who presented Congress with a sweeping health care proposal — only to see it fall flat on Capitol Hill.

Instead, Mr. Obama left it to Congress to produce its own measure. But after months of work, the House and Senate have been unable to close the gap between their bills. So the president, who had promised to post a Democratic measure on the Internet 72 hours in advance of Thursday’s health care meeting, was forced to take matters into his own hands.

While that may seem like a president on a mission — given the nature of politics in Washington — it might just make things worse for him. In the Washington Post, Ezra Klein points out research that shows whenever a president takes a stand, it only makes the opposition dig in that much harder:

The more that health-care reform is associated with the president, the less likely it is that any Republicans will support it. At best, (Thursday’s) summit won’t worsen the situation; the issue is so linked to Obama already that, for GOP lawmakers, supporting him on it would be tantamount to throwing the next election.

In theory, all this suggests that Obama might want to back off a bit. But we’ve come to expect more from our president. The voters, the media and members of Congress complain if he isn’t smack in the center of every legislative initiative. That leaves us two choices: Either we let him fade into the background, or we’re going to have to change the rules so that the majority can govern successfully even when it is not in the minority’s interest to let that happen.

While there seems to be little progress on health care reform, at least Congress is making up for it by doing little to nothing on energy, financial regulation or other important issues.

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