What Should Have Obama Done?

Ezra Klein asks as if the answer has not already been given a number of times. I wrote about it below, in the context of when the health care reform battle was lost but let's repeat the point - President Obama should never have allowed Max Baucus to hijack his timetable for health care reform. Because once he did, the reconciliation card was taken off the table.

This was important for two reasons. First, having the real possibility of reconciliation for health care reform would have given Obama and the Democrats bargaining power in the regular order (60 vote) negotiations. For example, if Lieberman (or Nelson or Lincoln or Landrieu) pulls his stunt in October, then you could very credibly say, 'well Joe (or Ben, etc.), we'd love to have your input in this bill, but we can't meet your demands. We'll have to do the bill via reconciliation.' As we all know, the big objections from these folks was about public insurance programs - all easily doable via reconciliation (as is Ezra's precious Exchange btw). This would be a very credible threat. Second, if they remained recalcitrant, then you DO do a bill by reconciliation.

Of course, what Ezra will NOT tell you is that he prefers the Lieberman bill to the bill that would emerge from reconciliation. You see, despite the protestations to the contrary, while the Village Bloggers had no objection to the public option (like Obama), they also don't really give a damn about it. That it is out of the bill is not really a problem for them. As I wrote earlier today, Ezra came clean on his lack of interest in the public insurance programs:

Ezra Klein finally lays out his cards on what he thought was the important part of the reform in the health care reform proposals:

Reconciliation, in other words, tips the bill towards an expansion of the public sector rather than a restructuring of the private sector [. . .] To be very clear, this is not a trade I'm eager to see reformers make. You lose too much in reconciliation, and gain too little. The exchanges are too important, and so too are the insurance regulations and delivery-system reforms. But if Democrats end up in reconciliation, this bill is going to get a lot worse from the perspective of its skeptics.

(Emphasis supplied.) Ezra was never against expanding public insurance programs. But he never thought much of them. In a sense, the bill that will be enacted is what Ezra wanted (coincidentally, it is what President Obama wanted.) Again, I do not begrudge him his opinions. I just disagree with them. I do begrudge his disingenuity in his writings and TV appearances as a "public option supporter." He never really cared about the public option. His ideal was not single payer. It was Wyden-Bennett. (Of course, both had an equal chance of passage - ZERO.) He should have been more forthright about that.

In the end, honesty will answer our questions. Ezra was not interested in strategies that would achieve reform via a public insurance option. He was interested in reforms that created the Exchange. That's fine. That's where Obama was too. But let's stop playing this game of "what could he have done?" They know very well what Obama and the Democrats could have done. They chose not to. Which is fine with the Village bloggers and I am fine with it being fine with them. The disingenuousness is getting quite annoying though.

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    Obama should have (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by jbindc on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:46:33 AM EST
    1. Presented the Congress with a clear plan of what he wanted to come out of a bill; and

    2. He should have been willing to twist arms and expend his highest political capital on getting his ideas through.

    Negotiation 101 tells you to start at a far out point and then negotiate inward to end up with close to what you want.  Obama started past the middle in the name of PPUS, and then gave up more.  He may have taught Constitutional Law, but he never passed Negotiation.

    You're assuming he's (5.00 / 5) (#6)
    by dk on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:34:21 AM EST
    not getting what he wanted in terms of the substance of the bill.

    great point (none / 0) (#8)
    by beowulf on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:45:26 AM EST
    If Obama's objective was to pass a insurance bailout in such a way that he wasn't seen by progressives as selling out, then he's played his cards pretty damn well.

    This is what he did. (none / 0) (#20)
    by Salo on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 01:39:05 PM EST
    He's a hustler baby.  That's what his daddy made him. - Simian Mobile Disco.

    Simian mobile disco? (none / 0) (#29)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 04:10:31 PM EST
    what the eff does that mean?

    Wait (none / 0) (#30)
    by Socraticsilence on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 04:43:41 PM EST
    "Simian" you really want to go there?

    Dont call anyone racist (none / 0) (#31)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 04:59:07 PM EST
    around here!

    Sexist is o.k, though.


    I mean really (none / 0) (#36)
    by Socraticsilence on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 06:02:36 PM EST
    "simian" is there any way that couldn't be taken as a race shot?

    It's a band (none / 0) (#37)
    by sumac on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 06:12:39 PM EST
    and a quote from one of their songs:


    the link (none / 0) (#38)
    by sumac on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 06:13:48 PM EST
    A skinhead band? (none / 0) (#39)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 06:14:58 PM EST
    huh? (none / 0) (#40)
    by sumac on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 06:19:12 PM EST
    It's a band of two UK DJ's - techno, electronica, whatever you want to call it.

    Oops! (none / 0) (#41)
    by Yman on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 07:21:21 PM EST
    Heh, heh ....

    .... gotta love when that happens .....


    Waited 8 years to run for president (n/t) (5.00 / 7) (#2)
    by Spamlet on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 10:58:17 AM EST

    let HRC be POTUS (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by jedimom on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:28:39 AM EST
    and Obama shoulda been VEEP to get some experience handling those levers of power

    of course he thinks he is doing great!

    B+ I hear

    Should be announcing his A- soon! (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by nycstray on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:40:05 AM EST
    A.B.C. (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by jedimom on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:30:42 AM EST
    As any villager can tell us it is easy peasey! Daschle and the whole Obama Team even had a slogan

    A.B.C. Anything But Clinton

    we see how well that worked for progressives, their leadership in the Village claims victory

    Pyrrhic that, since the taxes start immediately and the benefits, such as they are, begin in 4 years

    and of course they are filibustering themselves to avoid a pharma reimport vote since GOP will help pass it and they dont want that to happen

    what a clusterfark

    serisouyl.. (none / 0) (#5)
    by jedimom on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:33:20 AM EST
    he should have WAITED until UE was going DOWN

    you do not propose MANDATES and tax increases in the worst recession since....for a plan that gives no BANG for the buck until 2014, AND after passing the stimulus...

    what he accomplished was according to CNN ugh, poll, turning 60+% of Americans AGAINST HCR

    a big accomplishment since the majority agreed we needed it going in

    if he had waited, then we could have used the moral imperitive as the argument for it

    instead we were stuck with Orszagism, cost cutting as the reason


    it makes no sense on its face and so it failed


    Question (none / 0) (#26)
    by Socraticsilence on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 03:26:16 PM EST
    if he had said he was tabling an discussion until after the recession ended- somehow I think that people would have said he was ducking the issue.

    Actually, with unemployment rising at (none / 0) (#28)
    by Anne on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 03:47:23 PM EST
    the beginning of Obama's term, that would have been the perfect opportunity to formulate a plan that disconnected health care from employment.  You could still have done subsidies for the unemployed and it would possibly have saved some jobs by cutting the costs to employers of providing health plans.  It would have been the perfect time to open up Medicare to the 55-64 crowd - just think of the savings to employers who were offering plans, if they no longer had to cover older - and valuable - employees in their group plans.

    Instead, he insisted - and still insists - that we have to have an employer-based model; I think you have to look at that and ask who that helps?

    Truly, the only cutting-edge idea Obama has ever had - or glommed onto - was electronic medical records, and even there, studies have shown that they would not significantly lower costs.


    triangulation (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by souvarine on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 11:52:18 AM EST
    I succumbed to some hopium, I had started to believe that Obama yielded to pressure from his left and would fight for public insurance. Now I'm convinced Obama used pressure from Republicans and conservative Democrats to triangulate against liberals and remove a feature he only reluctantly added to his health care reform plan.

    Baucus was Obama's representative in the Senate, the timetable slipped because he had to persuade his liberal committee members to vote for a plan without a public option. Not because he was trying to add one.

    Klein was a supporter of a strong public aspect to reform, he was originally an Edwards guy. But he recognized that Obama's public option was never more than a gesture, so he was accurately reporting that it was not central to what Obama was pushing.

    I'm starting to think that Lieberman, Obama's mentor in the Senate, is his stalking horse on HCR. How Obama treats Lieberman next year should provide an indication.

    So I think Obama has his cake and gets to eat it too. He is getting the reform he wants, and most Democrats think he wanted a public option but lost the fight for it.

    Even if (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by Spamlet on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 12:15:04 PM EST
    "most Democrats think he wanted a public option but lost the fight for it," that does not put Obama in a good light. Makes him look weak. And Obama seems far too vainglorious even to appear to look weak, regardless of whether it would be for what he might see as a good cause.

    depends (none / 0) (#13)
    by souvarine on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 12:49:19 PM EST
    In terms of negotiating position the perceptions of Congress and the beltway press are what matters. The people in Congress know Obama spent no political capital on the public option, so if he gets something passed he will appear strong to them. The beltway press has been describing the public option fight as Obama kabuki all along, so they will celebrate him for putting one over on the liberals.

    The public at large will see him signing a major health care reform bill, they won't be sufficiently familiar with the details to know what the absence of a public option means. The press coverage will play it as a big Obama win.

    As for public option advocates, Obama can afford to appear to have lost a battle on their behalf, as long as he wins the larger war for reform. He will put the public option in a context, read Klein and Cohn for a preview.


    That reasoning may fly inside the Beltway (none / 0) (#32)
    by Spamlet on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 05:18:28 PM EST
    and on the Obama Fanblogs.

    But it won't convince the voters, who actually are not too stupid to see through this con, and who won't take kindly to being viewed and treated with so much contempt by Obama or the Village and its bloggy satellites.

    As BTD warns, if this POS legislation is what passes for health care (sic) reform (sic), there's a bloodbath coming in 2012, and possibly loss of the House.


    This might give some indication of how (none / 0) (#18)
    by MO Blue on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 01:23:50 PM EST
    Obama plans to treat Lieberman going forward.

    TPMDC checked in on Capitol Hill, and learned that White House officials are regularly meeting with him on climate change (even as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says he's not sure if aides are talking to him about health care).

    Also sizzling on the stove are major pieces of legislation pending in the Homeland Security Committee, which Lieberman chairs.

    Most prominent is the investigation into the shootings at Fort Hood this fall, and Lieberman is holding an 11:30 press conference at the Capitol on the issue after meeting with Defense Department officials.

    He has been closely coordinating with the Obama administration on documents and witnesses who will testify at the Fort Hood hearings, sources tell us. TPM

    Isn't the POTUS... (5.00 / 3) (#12)
    by Dadler on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 12:29:02 PM EST
    ...kind of, um, a LEADERship position?

    He should have lead. What he did was follow.

    And he hasn't even done that particularly well.

    That's just crazy talk! (none / 0) (#14)
    by jbindc on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 12:49:20 PM EST
    Grammar (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by shoephone on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 01:31:02 PM EST
    Not "What Should Have Obama Done?"

    Either: "What Should Obama Have Done?" or "What Obama Should Have Done."

    Apologies. My inner grammarian is rattling again.

    Should have not put HCR on the table until (none / 0) (#11)
    by ruffian on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 12:26:38 PM EST
    2011. I think all of the other financial crisis' and changes in the wars, etc.  this year created the wrong atmosphere for major change in health care. I understand not wanting to do it in an election year, so 2011 would have been a more logical time to me. Assuming there will be at least a little economic recovery by then (perhaps a bad assumption) the climate may have been better - at least it would take some talking points away.

    I know real reform for a lot of people really can't wait - bit it is going to wait anyway, as it turns out.

    If he hadn't started (none / 0) (#27)
    by Socraticsilence on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 03:27:58 PM EST
    he would have been shredded by the left- even more than he is being killed now.

    So now we're all assassins? (none / 0) (#33)
    by Spamlet on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 05:22:09 PM EST
    Not just Hillary?

    If he hadn't started he would have been shredded by the left- even more than he is being killed now.

    That's funny (none / 0) (#34)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 05:29:57 PM EST
    I thought she was an employee; albeit at a high level.

    Reference to (none / 0) (#35)
    by Spamlet on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 05:36:06 PM EST
    faux scandal stirred up by fauxgressive misogynist 'Bots last year. As you must know.

    Which Bots are you (none / 0) (#42)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 07:28:52 PM EST
    refering to, the ones on your side, or the other side?

    No, I missed that one.


    The ones who ginned up (none / 0) (#43)
    by Spamlet on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 07:33:56 PM EST
    a tempest of bilious outrage and cries of "Racist!" when Hillary Clinton mentioned the fact that the assassination of Robert Kennedy had changed the dynamics of the 1968 Democratic primary campaign late in the season.

    The "racist" - "sexist" (none / 0) (#44)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 07:53:44 PM EST
    crossfire got so nauseating to me so quickly, that I began tuning it out very early in the game. One part typical lowball American politics, one part hysteria. About par for the course.

    Why must HCR pass before end of (none / 0) (#15)
    by oculus on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 12:59:28 PM EST

    So Obama can declare VICTORY (5.00 / 2) (#16)
    by MO Blue on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 01:04:31 PM EST
    in his State of the Union speech.

    Obama wins. People who need real affordable health care lose. But what the hey, the image and corresponding speech is what is really, really important.


    Yeah but (none / 0) (#17)
    by jbindc on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 01:07:23 PM EST
    SOTU isn't until the end of January.

    Because Obama wants an A- for Christmas (none / 0) (#21)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 01:56:40 PM EST

    What should he have done? (none / 0) (#22)
    by Anne on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 02:15:49 PM EST
    How far back do you want to go?  Okay, I guess we're just talking about since he was elected, or since he took office?

    Maybe the real question is not what Obama should have done, but what it was that Obama wanted to do, and I'm not sure we've identified even that much of the equation.  He said he wanted a uniquely American employer-based plan that wasn't too disruptive, and promised that anyone who liked their current insurance could keep it.

    Does any of that form even the basis of a plan, or a direction?  I don't think so.  Something that is "uniquely American" could be something from the free market side, as well as from the Medicare/government side.  "Not too disruptive" depends on what it is you don't want to disrupt - the insurance industry stranglehold seems like the only thing that would suffer from disruption, doesn't it?  As for people being able to keep the plans they like, he failed to mention that an employer-based plan is subject to the whims of the employer, not to mention, hinges on one staying employed; has Obama noticed that a lot more people are NOT working now than were working when this process started?

    Whatever it is that Obama should have done, he's not alone; it's hard to imagine that the Democratic caucus had to start as if from square one, given that reform of the health system has been on our wish list since the Clinton years - the caucus should have gone to Obama and said, "this is what we're planning, and we need you to lead the way," even before Obama held his meaningless summit, and long before Obama started making his own deals with the industry.

    The problem with all the woulda-shoulda-coulda talk is that we're all assuming that Obama ever wanted real reform, and I am just not convinced that he did.  I think he wanted what he always seems to want: the easiest way to claim victory without ever having to break a sweat.

    I'm truly just fed up with the lot of them, and expect the next three years to be more of the same; what an unspeakable waste of opportunity that could have effected positive change in the lives of millions for generations.  Instead, we get Obama claiming that no one but him would be able to tackle this Herculean task - so we'd better do it now.

    There's just no way to get one's head around the magnitude of the arrogance and ego, given the paucity of real help the legislation appears poised to provide.

    What should an absolute monarch do? (none / 0) (#23)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 02:34:51 PM EST
    Is that the question?

    Tawdry repetitive projective psychological exercises concerning who's in-for-it-for-themselves and who's arrogant and who's selfless aside, we still live in an effing democracy dont we? Does this mean we're only allowed to have one "leader" at a time? One inspired voice; one activist; one visionary? Where are all the other ones in D.C, and why are they so quiescent? Partisan loyalty? Bullsh*t.

    My suspicion is that 99% are happy with the tinkering-around-the edges status quo while living the money = speech, K Street gravy train in place; hence the continued presence of the Summers' and Geithners' et al  


    I love the bit about (none / 0) (#24)
    by jondee on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 02:51:17 PM EST
    how it's all on Obama and all the other ones who we were so warm and fuzzy and gooey about during the primaries are completely off the hook. As if they had no power to influence or effect change whatsoever.

    If Obama cant step up, somebody needs to step up.


    And this is where I am even more (none / 0) (#25)
    by Anne on Tue Dec 15, 2009 at 03:10:39 PM EST
    disappointed - that the Congress has not stepped in to fill the vacuum of leadership.  And it isn't even that they are not stepping up, but that they are indulging him in what seems to be shaping up as a sort of vanity exercise.

    While recognizing that Obama is not a dictator, and does not have unlimited power, he does have the power, and a responsibility, to lead, and in this he is failing - unless you take the position that what is happening on health care is exactly what Obama wanted.  If that's the case, it may be as cowardly a way to lead as anything I have seen lately.

    I'm not sure who these people are about whom "we" were all warm and fuzzy and gooey - but as far as I'm concerned there is a collective Democratic failure on this issue, and plenty of blame to go around.