ObamaCare: What Went Wrong?

ObamaCare remains Undead. Sen. Maj. Ldr. Harry Reid reportedly hopes to decide next week whether he can wrangle 51 votes for a reconciliation bill — and whether he should. ObamaCare cannot be pronounced dead until the Democrats start picking it apart for spending cuts, rolling out small-bore, face-saving measures (e.g., drug re-importation, repealing the antitrust exemption for insurers), or the budget reconciliation clock runs out.

Nevertheless, Pres. Obama’s recognition that failure is an option, and the Senatorial grumbling about his lack of leadership on the issue has some — on the Left, tellingly — writing pre-mortems on the effort. Of course, the Left is unwilling to consider that the primary problem is that most Americans do not want the government to take over the healthcare system, that most Americans have health insurance and are (relatively) satisfied with it, and do not trust the Democrats when they promise greater coverage at less cost without rationing (contrary to all real-world examples). Accordingly, these pre-mortems from TPM and the WaPo’s Ezra Klein blame the process.

Klein’s piece is (unintentionally) hilarious. He asserts:

People don’t know very much about policy. *** [P]eople do know quite a bit about process, or feel they do, and in contrast to their weak policy preferences, they have very strong process preferences. The strongest among them is the belief that the people sent to do the people’s work shouldn’t be working on behalf of special interests, which explains the fury over the Nelson deal. Similarly strong is the aversion to partisan conflict, as most people think that these problems have common-sense solutions, and too much conflict suggests the two parties are deviating from that middle path.

Yet the conclusion Klein draws is that the Democrats’ problem was that they did not cut their backroom deals up front, and then ram the bills through without attempting to gain Republican support. (TPM adds other items, but largely agrees with Klein.) The only way this argument works is if one assumes that being even more blatantly corrupt and nakedly partisan would have secured final passage before the Massachusetts special election for the Senate. It assumes that this approach would not have brought the public reaction against the bill to a quicker and even greater boil, that the House would have been able to still squeak their bill through in that environment, that the Senate GOP would not have taken a truly obstructionist approach on the floor, etc. — all fairly dubious assumptions.

What the pre-mortems leave out is that the Senate Finance Committee bill — which lacked the so-called “public option” — did get a vote from Sen. Olympia Snowe. Yet super-genius Harry Reid stuck the controversial provision into the version of the bill he sent to the Senate floor. A bill with Snowe’s backing would have opened the door to the Dems picking off Sen. Susan Collins. The lack of a public option would have avoided the episode in which Sen. Joe Lieberman brought the process to a halt until the public option was removed. And a bill with Snowe’s support would have given far less leverage for Senators like Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson to demand those offensive payoffs. Instead, Reid chose to pander to his base, nationally and in Nevada, where he was already in electoral danger.

Another aspect the Lefty pre-mortems ignore is that throughout the process, the primary to sole imperative of Democrats was to “keep the process moving.” The general situation was always the Democrats’ ideological fervor trumping not only the public opposition to the effort, but also the fact that the Dems did not have a consensus bill that could pass both houses of Congress. The leadership twisted arms on the promise that the differences in the bills could somehow be worked out.

Sen. Tom Harkin has claimed that negotiators from the White House, Senate and House reached a final deal on healthcare reform days before Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts. But has there ever been any supporting evidence for that claim? If there was a solid deal, why is Harry Reid still trying to figure out if they have the votes for it — and whether they should proceed in any event?

Reid may decide to push this again next week. But if the Left wants to be honest about what went wrong so far, they will have to do better than blame the process. They need to face the problems raised by the substance of their efforts, their supposed leaders, and the lack of planning for an endgame.