The Death of Obama's Healthcare Reform

Pre-mortems abound from both sides of the aisle.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

The healthcare overhaul debate has entered its second phase. In the first phase, the healthcare overhaul was seen as an unstoppable policy juggernaut rolling down the tracks. Obama gathered all the healthcare stakeholders in the White House and they sang about how they wanted to buy the world a Coke (some Democrats threw in a chorus about slapping a surtax on the Coke, but all was good).

Now we are in phase two: The pre-mortem dissections, from the left and from the right, of why the Obama health plan is about to disappear into policy oblivion. The consensus seems to be that excessive cost is dragging the details-still-to-come health overhaul down.

On the left, the Post's Ezra Klein points out the fallacy of getting fixated on one arbitrary number (in this case $1 trillion), which he calls "very dangerous." TNR's Jonathan Cohn warns fellow liberals that they are "in danger of losing the fight for universal health insurance." In both cases, scoring from the Congressional Budget Office is central to the problem, and, Atlantic's Marc Ambinder points out, that issue can be laid at the feet of (irony of ironies) Peter Orszag, Obama's budget director.

From the right, Jim Pinkerton writes for us today ascribing blame for the demise of healthcare reform to Obama's big bank bailouts. They ate up all the money, Pinkerton argues, leaving nothing for the overhaul. 

Indeed, for the first time, congressional Republicans are thinking that maybe they can beat back Obamacare, after all. Concerns about the deficit and debt are rising, and startled Democrats are being forced to pay close attention to surging popular anxiety. So what happened? How did Obama take his mandate for healthcare action and fritter it away—in less than five months?

The answer, of course, is that Obama made other things a priority. He said that bailing out the banks was a higher priority, and so that's what he did—he has presided over the greatest upward wealth transfer in American history. The fiscal future of the country was thus given over to Wall Street. The perceived "march to socialism" that has antagonized so many over the past few months was not a trek on behalf of Main Street's healthcare needs, it was a trek on behalf of Wall Street's red-ink needs. And so healthcare has been left as a straggler; if any bill passes this year, it will be substantially truncated, falling far short of the goal of full coverage for the 46 million uninsured. 

At some point over the summer, we'll enter phase three, which involves less analysis and more legislating (or not).

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