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But What’s in It?

The Washington Post asked a symposium of political gurus and consultants whether “the plan President Obama outlined to Congress can pass.” Not one of them answered that query. They talked about how swell a speech it was or how important health care is or what the polls say. That’s not what the Post asked. But in fairness to the participants, it is a trick question. The president didn’t outline a plan. And what he did include—the public option—has been written off even by most lawmakers on his side of the aisle.

So we are back to pabulum. We must keep “the needs of patients at the center of every discussion.” Well, yes, that’s a good thing. The president has taken “ownership” of the bill—except he confessed (and got a big laugh) that “there remain some details to be worked out.” And another symposium contributor now said that “he has to take full charge of the process.” Hmm. So he took ownership, but he’s not in charge? All these voices bear an uncanny resemblance to those of schoolchildren delivering book reports on books they haven’t read or don’t understand. What is in the plan, and will it pass? No one seemed to know.

Tony Fratto was one of the few participants who made any sense:

President Obama had a chance to clear up confusion in the minds of Americans who have been following the health-care debate, and to lead—by truly proposing a middle path that would garner bipartisan votes.

As it turned out, he accomplished neither goal, and we appear to be no further along in achieving comprehensive bipartisan legislation than we were before Wednesday’s speech.

While the president was his usual eloquent self in passionately describing the problem, the speech did almost nothing to clear up confusion over the key points of contention: fiscal cost, taxes, Medicare cuts and the proper role of government.

[. . .]

It’s staggering to me that at this late stage in the debate, few Americans and only marginally more policymakers, members of Congress and journalists can accurately describe what exactly the president’s plan is, let alone how it would be paid for, its impact on the budget or its impact on the delivery of health services in the United States.

The fundamental issues have not been resolved, because the president either doesn’t know how to resolve them or fears that his solutions will be rebuffed. The result is a sort of charade in which Washington pundits and Obama supporters pretend we are now on a glide path to health-care reform, while the specifics of the plan are entirely absent. That, after all, is where we have been for the past eight months. But don’t tell the Obama spin squad—they loved that speech.


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