Commentary Magazine


Topic: Joseph Cao

RE: President Obama, Meet Reality

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

Saner liberals are nervous. Ruth Marcus, who is rooting for ObamaCare to pass, can do the math. Yeah, there might be 50 votes to jam through the Senate whatever can be jammed through via reconciliation, but what about the House? She writes:

With the House down a few members, 217 votes will be needed for passage. The original House measure passed with 220 votes — with 39 Democrats defecting. But two of those yes votes are gone: John Murtha of Pennsylvania died; Robert Wexler of Florida resigned. A third, Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, is leaving at the end of the month to run for governor. The lone Republican voting for the measure, Joseph Cao of Louisiana, is no longer on board.

Meanwhile, the president’s proposal does not include the anti-abortion language inserted in the House-passed measure by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), largely because the Senate would have difficulty fiddling with abortion language under the restrictive rules of the reconciliation process. So Stupak will be gone, and with him another five votes, perhaps more.

There are, Marcus explains, a few liberals like Dennis Kucinich to be wooed back to vote for ObamaCare this time around and some retirees who don’t care if they enrage the voters by voting for a bill they hate. But it still probably doesn’t get Obama to a majority. So Marcus frets: “My worry is that going for broke and failing will leave no time or appetite for a fallback, scaled-down plan. And the moment to do something on health care — not everything, but something significant — will have evaporated, once again.”

This is the essence of Obama: filled with grand plans and a grandiose conception of himself, but short on workable plans, legislative prowess, and strategic thinking. And underneath it all is a deep contempt for the wishes and concerns of average Americans. As Michael Gerson aptly sums up:

Americans have taken every opportunity — the town hall revolt, increasingly lopsided polling, a series of upset elections culminating in Massachusetts — to shout their second thoughts. At this point, for Democratic leaders to insist on their current approach is to insist that Americans are not only misinformed but also dimwitted. And the proposed form of this insistence — enacting health reform through the quick, dirty shove of the reconciliation process — would add coercion to arrogance.

But that, too, is quintessential Obama, the Chicago pol who never much cares what the little people think, because they and critics can be written off, delegitimized, and shouted down.

Unfortunately, with such a political persona, you generally wind up with legislative flops (e.g., the stimulus) or nothing at all. That might suit conservatives, who frankly prefer the status quo to Obama’s Brave New World of health care, but it sure must come as a blow to those who thought Obama would be a transformative president.

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ObamaCare and Political Theater

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

The health-care summit on Thursday will garner a huge amount of media attention — and its effect on the health-care debate will be negligible to nonexistent. It is simple political theater, a transparent public-relations game. No one believes anything important will be done, any serious negotiations will take place, any concessions will be given, any significant compromises struck. All it will do is place a debate we’ve been engaged in for the better part of a year on another stage.

The important news from this week has to do not with political “summits” but political substance — and the Obama administration’s stunning decision to double down on health care. I say stunning because ObamaCare is doing to the Democratic party what a wrecking ball does to a condemned building.

ObamaCare is, for one thing, hugely unpopular. David Brooks reports that if you average the last 10 polls, 38 percent of voters support the reform plans and 53 percent oppose. Obama’s reform is more unpopular than Bill Clinton’s was as it died, Brooks points out. And of course the intensity of opposition to the plan is far more than the intensity of support. Health care also set the context for Democratic losses in New Jersey, in Virginia, and in Massachusetts. Yet, according to press reports, “after initially reeling from the surprise election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate in Massachusetts, Obama’s chief political strategists came to believe that voters would punish Democrats more severely in this year’s elections for failing to try [to pass health care legislation], they said.”

Liberals like E.J. Dionne Jr. and Ezra Klein of the Washington Post argue that if Obama fails to pass health-care reform, his presidency will be crippled — but if he passes reform, it will be salvaged. “This week will determine the shape of American politics for the next three years,” Dionne wrote on Monday. “No, that’s not one of those journalistic exaggerations intended to catch your attention. … It’s an accurate description of the stakes at the health care summit President Obama has called for Thursday. The issue is whether the summit proves to be the turning point in a political year that, at the moment, is moving decisively in the Republicans’ direction. If the summit fails to shake things up and does not lead to the passage of a comprehensive health care bill, Democrats and Obama are in for a miserable time for the rest of his term.”

This strikes me as perfectly wrong. After a year of intense debate, the public has reacted to ObamaCare the way the human body reacts to food poisoning. It is rejecting it, utterly and completely. For Obama and the White House to convince themselves to ram through legislation that is, if anything, worse than the original House and Senate bills is an act of madness.

I rather doubt it will succeed. For one thing, there are now at least three people who voted for the House version of the bill who will not vote for a reconciliation bill (the late John Murtha, Bart Stupak, and Joseph Cao). For another, the Democrats plan is more unpopular now than it was when it passed in the House last year (by a vote of 220-215). We are also in an election year, when the Democrats are desperate to turn attention from health care to jobs. And finally, we live in a post–Scott Brown election world. Democrats have seen that ObamaCare is political hemlock. It is a cup Democrats would rather have pass from their lips.

No one is arguing that not passing Obama’s signature domestic initiative would reflect well on the president. A failure of this magnitude will undoubtedly damage him. But in this instance, with the White House having acted so ineptly, failing to pass ObamaCare is the best of bad options. Obstinacy on behalf of a bad and unpopular idea is a road to political ruin.

In redoubling his efforts to pass health-care legislation, Obama will be rejected — not simply by Republicans and the public but also, I suspect, by members of his own party. This in turn will further weaken his political standing. He will have looked obsessively out of touch, selfish, and narcissistic. But in the highly unlikely event that Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Majority Leader Harry Reid succeed in passing health-care legislation through the reconciliation process — if Democrats in the House are foolish enough to hitch their hopes to this liberal troika — there will be an even more fearsome political price to pay.

Some Democrats may believe things can’t possibly get worse, so they may as well pass ObamaCare. They are wrong. As one of my least favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong, said, “It’s always darkest before it’s totally black.”

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It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Kim Strassel thinks ObamaCare isn’t a done deal. Not by a long shot. She writes: “Republican Scott Brown is running strong in Massachusetts on a promise to be the 41st vote against health care in the Senate. Democrats’ bigger worry right now is whether Mr. Brown might prove the 218th vote against health care in the House.” In other words, Nancy Pelosi may have a heck of a time rounding up the votes in January, especially if Massachusetts delivers a body blow to the Democrats. As Strassel notes, since the last time House members were forced to walk the plank, the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial results have had time to sink in, ObamaCare and the president himself have continued to sink in the polls, and now Massachusetts is proving more than the Democrats can handle.

Strassel explains:

Of her three-yes-vote margin, Democrat Robert Wexler has resigned; his seat remains unfilled until April. Republican Joseph Cao won’t be the final vote for a Democratic bill. As for the 39 Dems who initially voted against the legislation, a vote flip now would be an invitation to be singled out—a la Blanche Lincoln—as the individual who brought the nation ObamaCare.

We shouldn’t underestimate the ability of the White House to strong-arm Democrats, but neither should we underestimate the fear factor that must be gripping the Democratic caucus. If Chris Dodd, Byron Dorgan, and maybe even Harry Reid are goners, could they be next?

In some sense, the Republicans are in the catbird’s seat. If ObamaCare fails, they can claim a measure of credit for having advertised its weaknesses and persuaded their colleagues of its toxicity. And if it passes, that’s the top issue for the 2010 campaign. As for Obama, what was to be his signature piece of legislation has now become a political trap. The solution, of course, is to scuttle the current bill and come up with a remodeled, truly bipartisan approach that eschews the most noxious parts of ObamaCare (e.g., forcing Americans into the arms of Big Insurance, taxing rich and not-rich voters). But for now, that seems not to be on the radar, so the House Democrats’ dilemma remains: a leadership that insists its members pass a bill that may well spell the end of Democratic majority status.

Kim Strassel thinks ObamaCare isn’t a done deal. Not by a long shot. She writes: “Republican Scott Brown is running strong in Massachusetts on a promise to be the 41st vote against health care in the Senate. Democrats’ bigger worry right now is whether Mr. Brown might prove the 218th vote against health care in the House.” In other words, Nancy Pelosi may have a heck of a time rounding up the votes in January, especially if Massachusetts delivers a body blow to the Democrats. As Strassel notes, since the last time House members were forced to walk the plank, the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial results have had time to sink in, ObamaCare and the president himself have continued to sink in the polls, and now Massachusetts is proving more than the Democrats can handle.

Strassel explains:

Of her three-yes-vote margin, Democrat Robert Wexler has resigned; his seat remains unfilled until April. Republican Joseph Cao won’t be the final vote for a Democratic bill. As for the 39 Dems who initially voted against the legislation, a vote flip now would be an invitation to be singled out—a la Blanche Lincoln—as the individual who brought the nation ObamaCare.

We shouldn’t underestimate the ability of the White House to strong-arm Democrats, but neither should we underestimate the fear factor that must be gripping the Democratic caucus. If Chris Dodd, Byron Dorgan, and maybe even Harry Reid are goners, could they be next?

In some sense, the Republicans are in the catbird’s seat. If ObamaCare fails, they can claim a measure of credit for having advertised its weaknesses and persuaded their colleagues of its toxicity. And if it passes, that’s the top issue for the 2010 campaign. As for Obama, what was to be his signature piece of legislation has now become a political trap. The solution, of course, is to scuttle the current bill and come up with a remodeled, truly bipartisan approach that eschews the most noxious parts of ObamaCare (e.g., forcing Americans into the arms of Big Insurance, taxing rich and not-rich voters). But for now, that seems not to be on the radar, so the House Democrats’ dilemma remains: a leadership that insists its members pass a bill that may well spell the end of Democratic majority status.

Read Less

Bribe-a-thon

As some have observed, the worse ObamaCare gets, the bigger the bribes needed to induce lawmakers to vote for it:

The process has degenerated into taxpayer-financed payoffs for moderate Democrats who don’t want to be held accountable for wrecking the private insurance that 200 million Americans are happy to have. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s wad of cash, for instance, has been fattened to $300 million.

The Hill details the “side deals” that are piling up to gain the votes of wary lawmakers. In addition to Landrieu, we have:

Before Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) cast the lone Republican vote for the healthcare bill in the House, he secured assurances from President Barack Obama to work on Medicaid funding, loan forgiveness and issues related to two of his local hospitals. …

Besides the promises secured by Cao, the best-known deal involved Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, two Blue Dog Democrats from the Golden State who secured funding for a medical school for California’s Central Valley.

Other lawmakers won carve-outs for their state healthcare systems.

And on and on it goes. Perhaps one effective amendment in the Senate process would be to strip all that out — no state-specific deals, no carve-outs, nothing other than the “merits” of the monstrous bill. How many lawmakers would sign on then? If health-care “reform” promises the nirvana that the Obama/Reid sales team says it will usher in, then its supporters should have no trouble rounding up votes, without the bribe-a-thon, to pass hundreds of billions in new taxes, huge Medicare cuts, a public takeover of health care, and abortion subsidies, right? Well, you see the problem. And that should be a sure-fire sign of just how awful the underlying bill really is.

As some have observed, the worse ObamaCare gets, the bigger the bribes needed to induce lawmakers to vote for it:

The process has degenerated into taxpayer-financed payoffs for moderate Democrats who don’t want to be held accountable for wrecking the private insurance that 200 million Americans are happy to have. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s wad of cash, for instance, has been fattened to $300 million.

The Hill details the “side deals” that are piling up to gain the votes of wary lawmakers. In addition to Landrieu, we have:

Before Rep. Joseph Cao (La.) cast the lone Republican vote for the healthcare bill in the House, he secured assurances from President Barack Obama to work on Medicaid funding, loan forgiveness and issues related to two of his local hospitals. …

Besides the promises secured by Cao, the best-known deal involved Reps. Dennis Cardoza and Jim Costa, two Blue Dog Democrats from the Golden State who secured funding for a medical school for California’s Central Valley.

Other lawmakers won carve-outs for their state healthcare systems.

And on and on it goes. Perhaps one effective amendment in the Senate process would be to strip all that out — no state-specific deals, no carve-outs, nothing other than the “merits” of the monstrous bill. How many lawmakers would sign on then? If health-care “reform” promises the nirvana that the Obama/Reid sales team says it will usher in, then its supporters should have no trouble rounding up votes, without the bribe-a-thon, to pass hundreds of billions in new taxes, huge Medicare cuts, a public takeover of health care, and abortion subsidies, right? Well, you see the problem. And that should be a sure-fire sign of just how awful the underlying bill really is.

Read Less




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