What if Obamacare fails?
posted at 11:26 am on July 15, 2009 by Karl
The cloud of gloom over Pres. Obama’s efforts to take over the US healthcare system is expanding beyond the Center-Left. Even Ezra Klein is occasionally allowing himself to realize that people do not want to pay higher taxes to get less healthcare (both in terms of treatment and innovation). The House bill will bite almost every small business in America. Moreover, people making under $50,000 and families making under $90,000 could pay higher taxes and still remain uninsured. As people learn “what’s in it for them,” the effort will become even more unpopular. Leading with the House bill — and the Kennedy-Dodd markup in the Senate — was probably a mistake by the Democrats.
As for the supposed benefits, Pres. Obama has been selling healthcare “reform” as a cost-cutting measure. But when the L.A. Times is reporting that even Obama supporters are dubious, you know there is trouble in River City.
Some on the Left are increasingly agitating for Obama to get more involved in pushing a bill, especially through the Senate. But the president’s political capital is ebbing every day. A steady stream of bad economic news these days is eroding Obama’s standing. It also appears to be draining support on the heathcare issue. Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg posited that rising unemployment would boost the chances of passing Obamacare, which had a certain logic to it. However, overall, healthcare reform is losing support. This dynamic adds urgency to the effort to ram bills into a House-Senate conference. Yet “the fierce urgency of now” approach will only fuel suspicion of the effort among the electorate.
Indeed, the Democrats’ increasing willingness to publicly pursue a partisan bill — now tacitly supported or accepted by Obama — may have tipped the Left’s hand a bit early. Moderate Democrats have already voted for a stimulus package that is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of voters and is being portrayed as a failure by the media. A number of moderate House Democrats were bribed or threatened into supporting a cap-and-trade bill that will likely die in the Senate. These legislators may be less likely to back a bill voters see as higher taxes with few benefits, just to please a president with waning popularity.
The question then becomes what happens if Obama and the Democratic leadership cannot secure enough support from their moderate colleagues. The most believable talking point from the Obama administration on this issue has been that failure is not an option. After all, the White House strategy on this issue all along has been to try to avoid failing like the Clinton administration did, in no small part due to the political consequences of that failure. For Obama to fail now would be even worse, as Bill Clinton could make Hillary the scapegoat, whereas there is no obvious fall guy or gal today. In 1993-94, the Left could also blame people like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh for leading the opposition. But neither Gingrich nor Limbaugh has been as active this year. Moreover, a lapdog press that has been touting Obama as the Great Man of History would be loathe to have him felled by the likes of Limbaugh, especially after Dick Cheney stalemated Obama on national security issues earlier this year.
Accordingly, it seems increasingly likely that Obama will take whatever he can get on healthcare, declare victory, and try to move on without answering too many questions about the result. While the Left hopes to hand the the moderates a fait accompli, the moderates may already be figuring out that they hold the upper hand.