First off, forgive me for the football metaphor, but college ball kicked off on Thursday, and I am overjoyed. (It would have been better had NC State beaten So. Carolina, but that’s only because I detest Steve Spurrier.) Anyhow, on to more important things.
On Wednesday, President Obama is going to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress, which will be televised live to the American people. The topic? You guessed it, health reform. For those who have accused the President of remaining far too silent during this whole process, this should come as a long-awaited relief. Finally, another chance for the leader of our country to get specific about health reform. For others, who for one reason or another are passed out in their living rooms from drinking too much Palin Death Panel Kool-Aid, it won’t matter what the President says. They are the “Yes We Can’t” party. Nothing’s going to change their minds.
But, unlike the President’s last prime-time speech on health care, which set out broad principles, we know now that the White House is going to put pen to paper and get specific about what health reform should look like. So what can we expect from the President? Well, the word from White House insiders is we don’t know. As Ezra Klein skillfully reports, however, it is clear that there are two camps: the policy people and the political team.
The policy people like the House bill, but realize they’re going to have settle for something a little less than that. That is, a “universal-like” system, with mandates, and a robust public option. The political team is uncomfortably pragmatic. There goal isn’t getting the best system (or a close second) in place, it’s being sure to get a reform bill passed at all. It’s a compromise position, with hopes of moving forward with a victory under Obama’s belt and an incremental plan in place for the future.
Putting health reform on the agenda was first down. Three committees in the House actually approved a bill. That was a pick up of a few yards. But the Senate Finance Committee drug its feet, leading to a delay of game penalty, and the early yardage was lost. Then, on second down, the August recess came, and the misinformation blitz knocked reform back a few more yards. Now, here we are at third and long. You can run or you can pass. In my mind, if meaningful health reform is a first down, then the run is the political approach, and the pass is the policy approach.
The policy approach has the potential to get you to your goal in one shot, but it is more challenging, and if the pass is dropped, you find yourself right where you were on fourth down, with no option but to punt. The political approach, on the other hand, has the potential to get you to meaningful reform, but more likely will result in a smaller gain. The difference is, the run is generally safer than the pass. That is, a political strategy takes fewer risks and sees fewer rewards than the policy approach, but it also has a better chance of moving you towards your goal.
What will Obama do? I have no idea. We’ll see on Wednesday.