President Obama Achieving the Possible

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on December 20, 2009, at care2.com

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I, for one, would like to see a re-energized Republican party.  I don’t think its good for America when one party has lost its way and we have to rely, at least temporarily, on the leadership of only one political team.

I rather like medical malpractice reform, a piece of the current Republican puzzle.  If Republicans could coalesce around a message of discipline and sacrifice for the common good on post-recession budgets — and maybe cleaning up the terrible problem in states that elect judges without asking them to recuse themselves when they preside over the cases of their campaign donors, they could have the beginning of a party platform.

Instead, I had to read in the NY Times today that the Republican response to President Obama’s efforts to reach reasonable and practical agreements to reduce international pollution and to the President’s leadership on health care — again seeking compromise in order to achieve what is possible — is that the President should only be working on the economy.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the Republicans have opposed serious efforts at health care reform — including opposing the current reform package that takes significant steps at cost control, while providing health care to those priced out of the system.  (The New York Times reported “the $871 billion cost of the bill would be more than offset by the new revenues and cuts in spending, so that it would reduce future federal budget deficits by $132 billion between 2010 and 2019” per the CBO.)

As if denying that environmental pollution could have a global impact, and claiming that serious scientists doing their best to understand and report climate change were balanced by a far smaller number of skeptics, many of whom represent polluting interests, wasn’t holding America back.

Now the Republican message is that the President of the United States should not do more than one thing at a time.  No matter that the nation is at war, that China presents capitalist competition at a whole new level, that environmental damage is not bound by borders and China, India, Brazil and the like are industrializing fast, that regulation of our private financial system needs obvious overhall and that the great gains in productivity and commerce of recent years got absorbed into rising health care costs rather than making our products more competitive on the international market or our workers better paid and businesses more profitable.  The Republicans want the President to address no more than the economy.  And on the economy, they want unregulated markets, without government action.  In other words, laissez faire, and let the chips fall where they may.

This President is tackling real problems in the economy, health care, and national security, and laying the groundwork for longer-term progress on environmental protection, education, and financial regulation.  His administration is developing new partnerships in international cooperation in keeping with changes in the dynamic power and nature of world nations.

Take for example, the health care compromise aiming to garner 60 votes in the Senate.  It will be picked on mercilessly by those who wanted something more or something less.  Some will say it does nothing and others will say it remakes the American economy into a socialist order.  But read the basics of what it achieves and think.  It offers an estimated 30 million people, who were rejected from or priced out of health insurance, the opportunity to obtain coverage.  It subsidizes low income wage earners and it taxes enough of those parts of the health care industry that are subsidized and overused to achieve significant cost-cutting.  It has features which draw the praise of economists like Paul Krugman. See his recent NY Times op-ed “Pass the Bill.”

The fact that Mr. Obama speaks well and that he uses expressions, such as “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” which turn out to perfectly capture the political dynamic, is a mighty bonus.  The President has clear insight into what realistic progress looks like.  Those who criticize compromise do not, although they may have a point that in the future progress can go beyond what we agree to today.  But we have to start from where we are, and sometimes getting started is the hardest part.  Once we move in the direction of cleaner energy, we can invest our education, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and regulatory know-how to take us farther than we can now imagine.  Or more dire circumstances may force us to take other measures.  But this is still the beginning.  We are not lacking leadership at the top.  Let’s take advantage of where we are and get started.

To hear my conversation with care2.com blogger Jessica Pieklo on Copenhagen hopes and Health Care votes follow this link and click on the “December 15, 2009 podcast, Copenhagen’s Promise and Health Care Reform Politics.”

The Vice President’s Op-ed is also worth reading:  Joe Biden in the NY Times.

December 21, 2009 UPDATE: NY Times Editorial in favor of the Senate bill.

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