Obama’s Health Reform Proposal: Too Late, Too Partisan

Why didn’t the president put out his plan sooner?

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Yesterday, the White House put out its healthcare reform proposal, and not much of it includes provisions Republicans might like. With the healthcare summit coming on Thursday, the question is, do Republicans have an obligation to put out their own bill? I asked former Senate Republican Whip Alan Simpson yesterday--the whole interview will be the subject of my column this weekend, so stay tuned--and he says that although Republicans do need to propose their own ideas, to expect a GOP healthcare bill is "hypocritical" of Democrats.

Back in the day when Simpson was in the Senate, no matter what party the president was, when it came time for major legislation, the White House would send some sort of legislative proposal on paper to the Congress--sometimes a bill, sometimes a framework--but the White House usually started the process. Most members of Congress won't compose a bill without White House political cover first, and you have to have a White House bill to "chew on," he says, before starting the negotiations. Most Americans believe the president just signs the bills into law at the end of the process, but that's not the case anymore. The executive branch is involved from the start. But with healthcare reform, President Obama didn't do that. He sat on the sidelines and asked House and Senate Democrats to write the bill, which turned into a year-long fiasco. "So to ask Republicans to cough up a bill when the White House never coughed up a bill is a little bit of a strain. I don't believe that's been done at all here," Simpson says.

Eugene Robinson makes a good point in his column today: Why didn't Obama put this out a long time ago?

Should the president have done this a year ago? Yes, it would have been nice to know where his bottom line was--indeed, that he had a bottom line--given that healthcare reform was his top legislative priority. At least some of the pointless drama could have been avoided.

House Democrats might not have dug in their heels over the need for a public option if they knew that, in the end, Obama wouldn't call for one. There might have been less angst over taxing "Cadillac" health plans if everyone knew that Obama, despite his campaign pledge, would ultimately support the idea.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of overlap between what the president is now proposing and what Republicans say they want in the bill. But there's hope that in order to get the kind of bipartisan support that sweeping legislation like this should have, he'll keep cutting things out and include some cost-saving Republican proposals like tort reform. Republicans should make that a condition of their support. It's still not clear to me how the Democrats can say that their bill expands coverage to millions of Americans and reduces the deficit at the same time. There's a big disconnect there.

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