Friday, January 29, 2010

Health Reform? Tell us Mr. President…


Analysts are debating about the success or failure of the President’s State of the Union address and depending on who’s talking, it was either depressing or inspiring.  He was snide and arrogant or humble and introspective.  Whatever.

I listened to the first half in my car and watched the second, mostly to hear about health reform.  Given the truly stunning turn of events of the past few weeks, I was searching for clues on whether this President would rally… or retreat.

First, I was fairly stunned that there was no mention of what has arguably been this Administration’s top domestic priority until about halfway through the speech.  In addition to asking members of Congress on “both sides of the aisle” to reconsider what’s been proposed thus far, he essentially suggested that the main problem he’s faced in pushing this initiative has been a public relations one.  “The longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became… I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American People.”  So, the problem was twofold: first, all of us didn't completely understand it and second, the delays (which Mr. Obama often warned could sink the process) didn’t help.

Personally, I don’t buy the argument that the delay hurt.  Rushing legislation of this magnitude and impact through is bad policy… and politics.  I do agree that the President and House and Senate leaders spent so much time back on their heels defending the proposals that they stopped articulating the good they contained.  BNET and others have reported that the more people understood health reform, the more they liked it.  Missives about full government takeovers and ours becoming more like inferior European health systems were always highly exaggerated and politicized.

I was hoping to hear a greater degree of acknowledgement that the Administration had learned some lessons along the way.  And that they would adapt and press on.  Instead, the heavy (and appropriate) focus on jobs and the economy could indicate that Mr. Obama is ready to move on.  If that’s not what he intended, he may have signaled to a weary Congress that this is no longer his hot button and, thus, they could increasingly see health reform as a hot potato instead.

Health reform and the State of the Union address.  I’m thinking about babies and bathwater…

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