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Redaction Free Bhalatics: On Health Care

<ybody's talking, and no one says a word. Everybody's making love, and no one really cares. … Always something happening and nothing going on. … Nobody told me there’d be days like these: Strange days, indeed.”

– John Lennon (Nobody Told Me)

Six months ago, feelings of hope, change, and optimism saturated the political climate. The time arrived, pundits proclaimed, for a moment in America to emerge. Despite the invariably shrinking economy, or the suffocating cloud of pollution in Washington D.C. that paralyzed progress and created cynics of an entire generation, President Barack Obama’s inauguration illustrated an end to gridlock and discord, a beginning to an expansive program to redeem America as a governed country of the people, by the people, for the people. The nation assumed that President Obama would lead us in reaching progressive goals in economics, energy, health care, and the war. Unfortunately, our assumption was wrong. Over the next two weeks, we will discover how President Obama erred strategically in allowing Congress to drive much of his agenda in two issues: the economy and health care.

President Obama has not led, but followed, to his detriment, Congressional Democrats and its ineffectual leadership. Six months into his presidency, as his poll numbers slip, President Obama must realize, utilize the fact that he is more popular than his gutted policies. I do not assume the President’s policies have failed – I contrast the constant, drumming critique of the president, offered by the inept Republican leaders, those nattering nabobs of negativism – but I do presume that President Obama’s legacy, even six-months into his tenure, hangs in the balance if he does not act.

Reform proves painstakingly difficult in our right-of-center nation in which we live. Nevertheless, the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton demonstrate only a temporary window for change exists in Washington, DC, and the amount of fresh air permeating the room decreases as time goes by. However, President Obama’s deference to the stale gas Congress offers imperils any advantage he held on January 21, 2009, and, allows Republicans an opportunity to frame the debate.

The first instance of this harrowing trend materialized with the stimulus bill. As a liberal Democrat, from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, I believe fiscal stimuli solve recessions. The government, in rebuilding our broken bridges, in reconstructing our concrete causeways, in revitalizing our railways, steps into a vacuum to initiate spending, which, after the nation weathers the storm, eventually draws in other, private investors. It stimulates the economy in the short term. So when President Obama encouraged Congressional Democrats to pass a stimulus, dubbed, now, as a recovery, I should have felt as though the trifecta of peace, love, and granola bars had somehow materialized in my mailbox. Instead of elation, upon examining the $787 billion resolution, I felt confused. I realized that Congressional leaders lit up a politically expedient Christmas tree with egregious offerings of Easter ham to the highest bidder. By the administration’s own estimates, only 11% of the bill found its way into the recovery pipeline in the succeeding months following the bill’s passage. The significant tax cuts – this amounted to about three-eighths of the bill, and defined exactly how ludicrous mixing politics with economics proves – found their way into the wallets of constituents everywhere. Moreover, the money has, yet, not left. So, instead of propelling the economy, the recovery act, penned by the glorious Congressional Democrats – whose approval ratings, by the way, creep to below those of former Vice President Dick Cheney – acted as an appropriations bill for various agencies and pet projects. Its efficacy, utility, will remain undetermined until, at the very least, 2010. President Obama’s reliance on Congress sowed the seeds of that pulsating critique heard today. The recovery has not worked. Detractors out there – they seem to identify with the Republican Party – claim that the recovery did not work and, thus, was unnecessary. Alas, they are wrong.

The right rails against fiscal irresponsibility and other new virtues with which they have reacquainted themselves, but I believe that there needed to be more in that recovery. We needed a recovery plan, a stimulus, that stimulated. We needed an inglorious, targeted approach to allocate money strategically, rather than tossing as much back in popular tax rebates as the government reserved for education, health care, social welfare services, and infrastructure, combined. Now, when faced with calls from economists to produce a second recovery act to buttress the first, our Democratic friends claim they cannot burden their constituents with anymore spending. If, the first time around, Congress had managed to pass something that worked, the proselytizations of failure would ring hollow. But, in that world, we do not live.

Congress did, though, manage to craft a program that worked – Cash for Clunkers, as a program, showed promise and ingenuity. A program that allowed the people to trade in old, gas-guzzling vehicles for cash rebates on new, fuel-efficient ones not only benefitted the environment, but also lent hope to the automotive industry. But Congress underestimated the program’s popularity. It ran out of money in four business days. Thus, Congressional Democrats had to appropriate more funds. And, like petulant children, trivially fighting over common toys in a filthy sandbox, factions of the Democratic Party threatened to vote against the measure because they wanted to implement a higher energy standard in the bill. These Democrats, by the way, voted for the measure before they indicated that they would vote against it. And, I thought that waffling ended when John Kerry ceased to be the head of the party. It was not broken, but, for fun, I assume they wanted to fix it, anyway, creating a public relations nightmare for the President and an ulcer for my stomach. More to the point, though, by incorrectly appropriating the funds the first time, Congress gave opponents of President Obama a shrill, intellectually dishonest rallying cry against health care reform. If the government cannot run a rebate program, how can it run 15% of the economy? With the inability to construct a proper stimulus, or recognize the bailout plans allowed fostered forth a new era of record profits for firms like Goldman Sachs ($7 billion last quarter), how can we expect Congressional Democrats to achieve what everyone from Paul Krugman to Nouriel Roubini have demanded: comprehensive financial reform?

Congressional Democrats establish themselves as too fractious to generate a single, cohesive, collaborative plan, no matter the issue. Scrutinize, as an example, policy regarding Guantanamo Bay. Barack Obama and John McCain, Democrats and Republicans, alike, agreed the detention facility must close. Yet, instead of solutions to the problem, what the majority of Democrats offer to the President’s pledge to shut down the prison camp qualifies as hindering opposition. Shut down the facility, but don’t send these terrorists into my backyard. As of yet, only Senator Carl Levin proposed an incarceration center to which the suspects could transfer.

These despicable trends show just how difficult how governing proves. At a certain point, the oratory falls flat – it is just the law of diminishing returns. Congressional Democrats, in a failure to minimize the public bickering, jostling, paralyze the legislative agenda. As such, it reflects poorly on President Obama – his disapproval ratings soared this summer – if nothing substantive emerges from this public fray. We elected the Democrats for change. We expected leadership. We received deference. And, America has paid. Ironically, the same cautionary tales that the last Democratic president ignored, unfortunately, have come into fruition for the new one. Strange days, indeed.

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