Presidents propose, but Congress legislates. At the end of the day the President either signs or vetoes what comes to his desk. No rewrites allowed. Which, according to the Associated Press, is one reason why some of the promises President Barack Obama has made lately won’t be a part of the health care reform package the House of Representatives will vote on this weekend. Given the public’s distrust of Washington, this not only makes the legislation less effective, but it’s bad politics as well.
Among the Administrations unfulfilled promises as listed by the Associated Press: while the Cornhusker Kickback and a special deal for Florida have been stripped from the bill, other of the special favors done for specific states (and their Senators) remain in the legislation. Sending undercover investigators to hospitals to ferret out fraud and waste, an idea President Obama cited as evidence of his incorporating Republican ideas – that’s gone, too.
One promise not kept that many readers of this blog may praise is that the President’s plan to give federal authorities the power to weigh in on carriers’ rate increases is no longer in the bill. (This idea was a mistake to begin with. State departments of insurance evaluate rate increases, but have to take into account the solvency of the carriers they regulate. To add into the mix federal regulators who would be looking at the “reasonableness” of the rate increases would inevitably have produced conflicts and confusion).
Of course, the bill to be voted on this weekend is not the last health care related legislation Congress will consider in the next few years. So there’s still time for the Administration to fulfill his promises, especially those related to incorporating Republican ideas. And the White House should make the effort to do just that. Why?
Congress may be about to pass legislation that will have a huge impact on the health and financial wellbeing of every American. And that happens it will be on a purely partisan basis. When it comes to legislation dealing with roughly one-sixth of the nation’s economy, that’s a poor way to make laws. The public, especially moderate independents, distrust one-party rule and the one-party policies that emerge from it. The messy and convoluted legislative process that brought Congress to this point has only further undermined public confidence.
Democrats and Republicans are both to blame for this state of affairs. Republicans early on chose, for the most part, not to engage in meaningful negotiations. Several of their leaders spoke of the political benefits of denying President Obama of success on his top domestic priority.
Meanwhile, Democrats, confident with their large majorities in both Chambers chose to go it alone. In fact, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party had the hubris to believe they could enact reforms without reaching out to moderates in their own party. The President’s promises to incorporate some of the ideas put forward by Republicans during the health care reform summit he conducted was recognition of the need to broaden support for the reforms. The absence of those GOP proposals, consequently, weakens the package as a whole.
Whether this is the result of Congressional Leaders being unwilling to accept these ideas or the inability to include those GOP proposals due to the requirements of the the reconciliation process being used to pass health care reform is immaterial. Health care reform is being passed in a manner that undermines its credibility.
If President Obama wants his health care reform plan to become a part of the nation’s norm, much as has happened with Medicare, which was passed over strong and emotional opposition, he will need to continue to continue the health care reform effort. Given the need to attack rising medical costs in a far more direct way than the current legislation does, some follow-up will be inevitable. The Administration should embrace this necessity and assure that this follow-up is credible, both in policy and in process. Doing so would go a long way toward healing the rifts in the body politic caused by the current debate.