His brave words in his first State of the Union Address notwithstanding, President Barack Obama seems to remain clueless on the healthcare front.
After focussing on the none too happy state of the economy for about half an hour, he turned to healthcare a major plank of his election campaign and said, "By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small-business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber."
AdvertisementThat's all fine, but how will he fix the stalemate? All that he would say was, "As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed," adding that many of the proposals were an improvement of the current healthcare system.
"But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know," the president insisted.
Finally there was a desperate plea. "Here's what I ask of Congress, though: Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."
Obviously he's hoping that over time pragmatism would overcome politics. That's the mess would sort out by itself, as if by some magic wand.
But no such thing is going to happen. Having successfully demonized the healthcare bill as the Big Brother waiting to pounce on the hard-won individual liberties, the Republicans would prefer to leave the president stew in his own juice.
Obama's biggest challenge in the next few weeks may be overcoming the fears, and perhaps the inertia, of his own party. Yet the speech conveyed little of the sense of urgency he brought to the same chamber when he gave his first address to a joint session of Congress a year ago, commented David E. Sanger in the New York Times.
At that time, he laid out a legislative agenda for the year. This time, he offered no timeline, no deadline, for resolving the health care debate. Nor did he on financial reform. When he talked about energy and climate change, he made no direct mention of the most controversial element of his plan — the cap-and-trade system that would, for the first time, create a price for emitting carbon into the atmosphere. Instead, he spoke of "incentives," Sanger noted.
The problem is all his agenda-setting during the campaign was carefully calibrated. Even when he declared "We can," he never was clear as how he will go about it, especially when so many forces are ranged against any drastic changes in the system. He was not talking of a confrontation, but only of accommodation.
Such an approach has failed miserably both on the economic front and also on healthcare. The rival camp would like to deliver the knockout blow by crushing the Democrats in the year-end elections, cramp Obama like never before, so that eventually he ends up a one-term President.
In his speech, Obama did address the people at large when he reminded the Republicans that the neutral Congressional Budget Office had said the proposals would slowly bring down costs. Last year the US spent $2.4 trillion on health care, amounting to one sixth of the economy. That was some tentative effort to reach out to the people at large.
Then ratcheting up, he declared, "The approach we've taken would protect every American from the worst practices of the insurance industry. It would give small businesses and uninsured Americans a chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market."
But to realize the plan in action, he needs to change from being a pragmatist to a risk taker. He should take necessary initiatives to effect change. The American public is getting immune to rhetoric and wants to see deeds along with the words, remarked a supporter in despair. One can only hope Obama reads such columns.