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Democrats' Treatment Was Wrong But Diagnosis Remains The Same

January 20, 2010

By David Gratzer

In a Senate special election, a little known candidate runs against a seasoned politician who serves as attorney general. The underdog focuses on only a few issues, including health care, arguing that Washington is out of touch, and — amazingly — he wins.

Sound familiar?

It’s Pennsylvania in 1991, when Harris Wofford took on Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

Wofford’s win had national significance; it showed the vulnerability of Republicans on health care and the frustration of middle America. It was the beginning of the end of the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

Republican Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley on Tuesday also has national significance. It also shows the incredible frustration of middle America, and the focus of anger now is the Democrats.

It’s too early to comment on the damage to the Obama presidency, but the legislative result is clear: Even if ObamaCare passes later this month, practically none of the overhaul will see the light of day. As Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., observed last week, a Brown win “kills the health bill.”

The practical implications of Brown’s triumph are profound.

Sen. Scott Brown deprives the Democrats of their 60th vote in the Senate. It’s still possible for Democrats to try and ram the bill through. But on Tuesday, for all intents and purposes, the supermajority died and, with it, the ability to pass this polarizing legislation. And even if the legislation becomes law, with so much of the overhaul not fazed in until 2013 and dependent on future congressional action, ObamaCare, as we know it, is history.

The larger significance is amazing.

Democrats strategized that their deal making and compromises would produce a health overhaul package that would prove popular.

The president hasn’t simply invested in the outcome; he’s gambled it all, focusing on health care to the exclusion of practically any other issue for the past year. The press conferences, the interviews, the speeches, the rallies — he transformed an important issue into the only issue.

Massachusetts has made a mockery of this strategy. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-to-1, and where the president’s approval rating still remains far above 50% (unlike his national numbers), people reject ObamaCare.

Yes, reject it: in last week’s Suffolk University poll, 15% more disapproved of the plan than approved of it.

In other words, even in a liberal state, ObamaCare is not sellable. Now, looking ahead to November, how will Senate Democrats do in Nevada, Alabama and Indiana?

Here are a few conclusions for future medical changes:

1. Americans must be part of the process.

The White House weaved together an unlikely coalition: union leaders, corporate lobbyists and activists. Strategy sessions included representatives from SEIU and PhRMA. Even the insurance lobby — which nominally opposes the president — sent money to Brown’s opponent.

But America is more than Washington. Proposals need to sell on Main Street, not just K Street. That requires a long conversation, not a rushed legislative drive.

2. Big isn’t better.

ObamaCare is composed of dozens of proposals rolled into one massive package; the Senate bill is nearly 50% longer than Hillary Clinton’s 1993 proposal. It includes everything from insurance regulations to the creation of an entitlement for long-term care.

Far from making the process easier, the size helped bog it down with endless negotiations and compromises, producing a package that would accomplish none of the goals set forth by President Obama.

3. Significant change must be bipartisan.

Early in the process, Democrats made the strategic decision to go it alone. But an overhaul should tap the best of both parties — not simply to get better policies, but also to ensure staying power.

White House aides liked to compare their efforts to those of LBJ in passing Medicare. Here’s what they never mention in their conversations: Medicare passed with a bipartisan majority.

ObamaCare is dead; a health overhaul isn’t. Costs continue to rise; too many are without insurance; quality is uneven. Democrats weren’t wrong in their diagnosis, but presented an expensive, clumsy treatment.

The next legislative effort will not be far in the future. Massachusetts voters sent Washington a strong message: next time, be sensible.

Original Source:



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