clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Obama's plan a year late

After being in office for almost exactly 13 months, President Barack Obama on Monday finally unveiled on the White House Web site a detailed health care reform bill of his own, presumably the top priority of his first year in office.

Obama's bill is, in effect, a compromise between the House and Senate measures, with his heavily weighted toward the Senate's version. On Thursday, he is to hold a health care summit at which he will sell the compromise to congressional Democrats and offer to make further compromises to bring at least some Republicans on board.

A White House spokesman describes the measure as an "opening bid," as if Obama and his aides are open to a thorough rewriting of the bill. Maybe they are, but this looks awfully like a finished bill.

It would extend health care coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans, cost $950 billion over 10 years and not, the White House insists, add to the deficit. For the first time, it would give the federal government the power to veto premium hikes in private health insurance plans that are deemed excessive.

Conspicuously absent from Obama's plan is the "public option," a government-run alternative to private insurance. A favorite of liberals, it is anathema to Republicans and conservative Democrats. However, he did lower, and delay the effective date of, a tax in high-end "Cadillac" insurance plans, many of them union-negotiated.

It is not hindsight to say Obama should have done this a year ago. Instead, he threw it open to the House and Senate to write their own bills, which they did, finally passing them late in the year after protracted and unseemly infighting.

The minority Republicans dug in their heels, hoping something would halt the new president's momentum, and finally something did: an upset GOP victory in Massachusetts that left Senate Democrats one vote short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.

The Republicans are urging the White House to tear up the Democrats' bill and start from scratch. This makes for good rhetoric, but given the legislative realities, that would be tantamount to killing health care reform altogether. It's this bill, or a vastly scaled-down version of it, or no bill at all.

In another indication that Obama does not envision a lengthy period of compromise with the Republicans, the White House called for an immediate up-or-down vote on the president's bill and hinted that the vote should be done under rules allowing for a simple 51-vote majority in the Senate.

Just because of its magnitude, health care reform was always going to be a tough fight, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that it would have been much simpler if he had put forward his own bill and held a summit to sell it early last year.