Amazing. For better or worse, this is O’s signature “achievement.” If he’d dropped the bill after Scott Brown won the Massachusetts special election, what would be left of his argument to liberals to turn out in force for him in November? Yeah, I know, they’re not big fans of ObamaCare either — they wanted a public option, not a mandate that enriches private insurers — but he helped them take an enormous stride towards their goal of single-payer down the line. If he’d bailed out, his case to his own base would be (a) ending a war that they ceased caring about once he was elected and (b) passing a stimulus that didn’t have nearly as dramatic an effect on unemployment as the Democratic brain trust advertised. How do you tell people who handed you the presidency and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate that you can’t get a key bill through because, well, the politics of it are kind of dicey?
You think Obama overinterpreted his mandate with health care?
The problem with health care is this: Health care is enormously important to people. When you tell them that you’re going to extend health care to people who don’t now have it, they don’t see how you can do that without hurting them. So I think he underestimated, as did Clinton, the sensitivity of people to what they see as an effort to make them share the health care with poor people.
I think we paid a terrible price for health care. I would not have pushed it as hard. As a matter of fact, after Scott Brown won, I suggested going back. I would have started with financial reform but certainly not health care.
And if you’d done it with that sequencing, you could have still gotten health care before 2012?
I’m not sure, but I think you could have gotten some pieces of it. And yeah, if we’d held the House, we could have gotten it.
Frank thinks, I guess, that they could have done a more robust financial reform bill if they hadn’t wasted all their political capital on O-Care. I’m skeptical given Wall Street’s financial influence over both parties. If they had dropped ObamaCare, maybe they could have gotten through immigration reform instead. Blue Dogs would have had some leeway to vote for it since they wouldn’t have had O-Care hanging around their necks and it would have been a huge boon for the party in building on its advantage among Latinos for 2012, even if it did make life harder for Dems in purple districts in the midterms. (Then again, immigration’s an awfully tough sell in the middle of a grinding recession.) But then, why would you want to sacrifice the age-old liberal dream of universal-ish health care when it’s finally, finally feasible for some lesser policy agenda item? I’ve always grudgingly admired the Dems for gambling their majority in the House on the bill at the top of their policy wishlist. The GOP will need the same attitude to reform entitlements when it gets the chance. Frank’s basically arguing that that was a bad move, that they should have played small ball in hopes of maybe holding onto their congressional majorities — which was by no means assured given the state of the economy, whether ObamaCare passed or not. Why sacrifice a chance to impose a policy paradigm shift on America when, at long last, you have the numbers to do so?
Exit question: Which “pieces” of O-Care would he have pushed through at first as a prelude to passing everything later? The popular stuff, like the provision about preexisting conditions? The whole point of the mandate is that you have to do all the reforms at once to ensure that there’s revenue available to cover all the new coverage requirements. Doing it piecemeal would risk an insurance “death spiral” — although maybe that’s the point. Pass the stuff that everyone likes first and then, when the insurance industry starts to creak and sputter, turn around and say that we simply have to pass a mandate and various other rules to make the good stuff viable.