Thursday, December 17, 2009

Change? What Change?

Remember just a few weeks ago when political pundits were declaring the demise of the Republican Party? That Republicans were teetering on the edge of insignificance; remember? Well, not to be outdone, Democrats have now stolen the show!

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman, and Vermont Governor, Howard Dean has counseled senators to vote no on the latest Senate health reform proposal. As he explained in a Washington Post op-ed piece, "I know health reform when I see it, and there isn't much left in the Senate bill...this bill would do more harm than good to the future of America." Democratic Congressman Dave Obey, of Wisconsin, was quoted by Politico as saying, "It's ridiculous, and the Obama administration is sitting on the sidelines. That's nonsense." Powerful Democratic Congressmen John Conyers, of Michigan, said, "No public option, no extending Medicare to 55, no nothing, an excise tax, God...The insurance lobby is taking over."

While everyone pretty much agrees health care reform is needed, Democrats have not been able to garner support of the 60 members required to assure passage. Meanwhile, President Obama has been singularly focused on supporting any bill that could be labeled health care reform, but to no avail. Senator Joe Leiberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said no to extending Medicare benefits just three months after he proposed the very same idea. Of course he almost was Republican Senator John McCain's running mate in 2008. Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson has rejected the public option and wants tighter restrictions on abortion.

President Obama has found himself in the position of catering a handful of moderates at the expense of his core supporters. But is any win on health care reform a win? No say liberal members of Congress who are furious. For instance, Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner of New York said, "Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise. We need the president to stand up for the values our party shares."

So the White House has found itself deflecting criticism from its own party. White House adviser David Axelrod responded to Howard Dean's attack, "I saw his piece in the Post this morning, and it's predicated on a bunch of erroneous conclusions. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of Dean's charge that the bill was good for insurance companies, "if this is such a great thing for the insurance companies, why are they spending hundreds and millions of dollars every day to attack it?"

Meanwhile, the president began employing some scar tactics, telling ABC Newsman Charlie Gibson, "If we don't pass it, here's the guarantee....your premiums will go up, your employers are going to load up more costs on you." And he said the costs of Medicare and Medicaid are on an "unsustainable" trajectory, and if not dealt with, "the federal government will go bankrupt." As the president ratchets up his rhetoric, his job approval rating has slipped to a new low, 47% according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The president can find some comfort in the fact that the Congress, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party all do worse in the polls.

But Republicans are beginning to build a narrative of a president who is not a leader. And it just may be sticking. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough observes that "No one fears of President Obama." And conservative columnist Peggy Noonan asked Axelrod, "You are losing the left, you are losing the right, you are losing the center. That looks to me like a political disaster." Even Democrats like Representative Weiner are calling for leadership; "It's time for the president to get his hands dirty."

Even if House and Senate conferees are able to hammer out a health care reform bill that passes Congress, its impact is not likely to be felt on Main Street for some time. Meanwhile the president's image will have been damaged by the lengthy debate, and he will have spent an enormous amount of good will with the public no matter the outcome.

This is now President Obama's ecomony, Obama's unemployment problem, Obama's housing crisis, Obama's deficit, Obama's wars, Obama's banking regulatory problem and it will remain Obama's health care reform problem. Fortunately for President Obama, the party of "no" has weak national leadership. Governor Sarah Palin's magical book tour has made her a lot of money but it hasn't converted many voters. However, Republicans will be competitive in Congressional districts across the country. And as the 2010 midterm elections approach, Americans will be asking themselves, "Is this change we can really believe in?"

No comments: