We also saw the proposal to tax employer-provided benefits. That didn’t sit well with Democrats’ Big Labor patrons, many of whom have members who receive generous health care benefits. And this gambit would represent, of course, a stunning reversal of Obama’s campaign position, which was loudly proclaimed in numerous TV ads excoriating his opponent for suggesting this very idea. (Actually John McCain wanted to provide a tax credit in lieu of employer benefits, a position far more generous than what Democrats were considering.)
But aside from the knotty legislative issues, there looms a larger political problem for the president and Congress. Simply put, the economy isn’t any better and they lack credibility to take on a huge government-run redesign of 300 million Americans’ health care. Is the gang which got the stimulus wrong the same crowd to whom we want to entrust our family health care? “Misreading” the number of jobs they could “save or create” is one thing, but getting health care redesign for the entire country wrong could be, pardon the expression, a fatal error.
Indeed, the administration’s fiscal train wreck and stimulus failure have made health care reform tougher. The funding dilemma is made infinitely more difficult by the widening budget deficit. Meanwhile the soaring unemployment figures suggest now might be the time to focus on job-creation, not a whole new set of taxes, mandates and regulations. Really, is now the time to spend another trillion dollars and whack taxpayers?
So the president continues to issue platitudinous statements and insist Congress “get it done.” He is threatening to delay the August recess. But of course, Congress, not the White House, decides when lawmakers go on vacation. And the president, absent any specific plan of his own, is in a poor position to insist Congress come to a legislative conclusion. After all, why doesn’t he tell us what he wants health care to look like?
Then there is the public. At least according to one poll, the voters (perhaps increasingly worried about their jobs) are no longer clamoring for the government to redesign and possibly take over their health care. Honestly, who can blame them? If the choice is the current system or a bevy of new taxes and nationalized health care, perhaps the status quo isn’t so bad after all.
But for the president and the Democrats this is do-or-die time. Their base will never forgive them if they don’t achieve nationalized health care now. And the prospect of facing the voters in 2010 with double-digit unemployment and no significant legislative accomplishment is enough to send shivers up the spines of even the most confident Democrats. After all, if the Democrats can’t deliver either an economic recovery or health care reform, it might be time for “change.”