Bob Franken

Obama’s Health Care Momentum–Which Direction?


Who knew that President Obama would adopt the “Big Mo” thinking of President Bush? That’s Bush the First, of course.

Obama the Only is clearly trying to concoct momentum with his continued insistence that Congress come up with health care reform legislation by the August recess.

In fact there are strong hints now from underlings that he knows his public bravado is unrealistic, that the deadline is there simply to keep everyone’s adrenaline flowing.

The problem is that when this political amphetamine doesn’t create adequate speed in the normally lethargic bill-making process, there could be a major letdown from the expectations he’s created. It’s a damned-if-you, damned-if-you-don’t situation: meet a contrived deadline or allow things to dissolve over the August break.

The bigger problem is he’s already started skidding. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows approval for his handling of the issue has slid below 50 percent for the first time.

Worst of all, by the time our leaders cobble something together, the process of compromise will have created reform that really isn’t. The pressure to do anything else will have run out of steam.

Our leaders will leave us with something that is inadequate, at best, and possibly worse than before.

Then, in their zeal to declare success and placate voters, they will trumpet a glossy success and gloss over the mind-numbing details that will really add up to failure.

We’ve already got failure with our current system. It has defied efforts to rebuild it. This time around the president is using a broad-brush strategy of involving all the parties in negotiations. The problem is that the broad brush might paint him into a corner, hemmed in by all the special interests intent upon keeping their piece of the pie, and maybe chomping a bite or two from some of the others. After all is said and done, they may have chewed up the vital parts.

True reform will require careful attention to the mind-bogglingly complex details. They are easily misunderstood and easily misrepresented by those who distort facts for a living. We can expect a lot of that as the doctors, lawyers, insurance companies, hospitals, business groups, pharmaceutical companies, the old, the poor, the rich — definitely the rich — use every means at their disposal to make sure any “shared sacrifice” is shared by others, not them.

We haven’t even gotten to those lurking Republicans. Actually, that raises a question: Can one “lurk” in plain sight? That’s what they’re doing. Many of them are making no bones about their investment in failure.

On Friday, Politico quoted GOP Sen. Jim DeMint speaking on a conference call, declaring: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” You can’t get more blatant than that.

Unfortunately, the people of Waterloo — Iowa, that is — and those of us in every part of the country, desperately need constructive cooperation, not political sabotage.

The president is trying to create a now-or-never urgency, and there’s a lot to say for that tactic, particularly since he has staked his credibility on it. That’s why he was YouTubing this weekend against “talking and tinkering and letting this problem fester as more families go under and more Americans lose their coverage.” He’s plunging in so his presidency doesn’t drown in this issue.

But he will need to combine seeming opposites, the intense with the methodical. A careless effort will play right into the hands of those who benefit from the status quo. If we don’t use the moment to create truly meaningful reform, our momentum will be straight downward.

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