Commentary Magazine


Not So Fast

Last week David Brooks told us ObamaCare was in the bag. Today he pronounces:

Health care reform is important, but it is not worth bankrupting the country over. If this process goes as it has been going — with grand rhetoric and superficial cost containment — then we will be far better off killing this effort and starting over in a few years.

Wow — that was fast! What happened in the interim was a dose of reality and a whole lot of infighting among Democrats. All the talk that Obama had built a coalition — everyone was “in the tent” — and that the hapless Republicans were miles behind in the PR war, has proven illusory. Like the Wicked Witch of the West doused with water, healthcare reform — or at least the liberal version of it — has melted with the introduction of a few key facts: the CBO cost estimate, the aversion to a public option plan, the need for massive taxes to pay for it, and a queasy sense that the president’s popularity is fleeting and hasn’t convinced the public that bigger government is the way to go.

As Brooks’s colleague Ross Douthat points out, it was so much easier simply to throw spitballs at the Republicans:

Liberals torpedoed the Bush administration’s attempt to trim Social Security benefits. They demagogued John McCain in 2008, when he proposed a market-based health care plan and hinted at means-testing Medicare.

But now it’s their turn to actually run the country. And just as Bush-era conservatives couldn’t really make tax cuts pay for themselves, Obama-era Democrats aren’t really going to be able to finance universal health care without substantial middle-class tax increases, or substantial spending cuts.

And the president still seems fixated on meaningless feel-good announcements, the latest being an $80B commitment from drug companies to help defray costs for seniors. But it’s not really relevant to the the ongoing debate. Roll Call points out that “while the spending by the drugmakers will certainly assist some seniors, it is unclear how it would directly benefit the health reform effort by defraying the cost of providing a new government insurance option. The new spending will aid those who already have insurance — namely, Medicare.” And then today the two largest healthcare insurance groups say “no” to the public option.

It’s really not clear what happens next. The grandiose scheme to achieve universal coverage without taxes and without making clear Americans were to be herded out of private insurance is seemingly kaput. What will replace it has yet to be determined.