What if Obama fails on health care reform?

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on health insurance reform at Walter F. Ehrnfelt Recreation and Senior Center in Strongsville, Ohio, on Monday.
REUTERS/Jim Young
President Barack Obama delivers remarks on health insurance reform at Walter F. Ehrnfelt Recreation and Senior Center in Strongsville, Ohio, on Monday.

WASHINGTON — It is an outcome that the Obama White House and its loyal supporters are absolutely not willing to entertain in public: failure to pass comprehensive health care reform.

Everyone knows it’s a possibility – that when all is said and done, the Democrats may simply not be able to garner enough votes to pull off the complicated legislative maneuver required to pass reform. The goal is to get it done by Sunday, when President Obama plans to head abroad. But if not, then what?

“The failure of healthcare reform would be very devastating for the Obama administration,” says Darrell West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It would cast doubt on his entire presidency.”

The layers of devastation would go deep, he and others say: Failure would disillusion Mr. Obama’s progressive base and discourage all the people who worked on behalf of his campaign. It would leave the big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress – in addition to Obama himself – open to the charge that they are incapable of leading. It would increase the possibility of a tidal-wave election in the fall midterms.

The rest of Obama’s agenda would be cast in doubt. He has already signaled a desire to tackle financial regulation, immigration, and campaign-finance reform next, but if he can’t pass healthcare, he will have no momentum.

Some Democrats from Republican-leaning districts and states locked in tough reelection battles may be relieved by a defeat of health reform, but they still will have little to show for Obama’s first year in office. The public simply has not been impressed by the argument that the administration saved the nation from going off the edge of a cliff, economically.

“I don’t think you can have any other view: If [Obama] can’t pass healthcare, the Democrats go into the fall with a hugely reduced president,” says Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, Pa. “I don’t think there’s any way you can rationalize that.”

Obama, he continues, is “trapped in the dangerous middle.” If healthcare passes, the Republican mantra will be “repeal it, repeal it” – a rallying cry for the party’s energized base. If Obama fails, it would be an even greater failure than President Clinton experienced in 1994 when his health reform effort fell apart.

“It was never a defining issue for Clinton,” Mr. Madonna says. “This is a defining moment and issue for Obama. That’s why I believe it will happen. They’ll do whatever it takes.”

Mr. West of the Brookings Institution also predicted the legislation will pass the House by the narrowest of margins, with the Democrats giving any member they possibly can a pass.

On Monday afternoon, the House Budget Committee voted to send the healthcare plan to the House Rules Committee, the next step on the way to a vote on the House floor later this week.

Obama, meanwhile, worked the outside strategy Monday, delivering a campaign-style speech in Strongsville, Ohio. “We know what will happen if we fail to act,” Obama said, forecasting a rise in government debt, the cost of coverage, and the rolls of the uninsured.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/16/2010 - 05:43 pm.

    While this bill seems to have some good provisions, they may not be enough to obscure the fact that the president let Max (I Never Met a Lobbyist I Wouldn’t Refuse the Chance to Help Write Legislation) Baucus be in charge of putting it together. And, of course, what he put together was a bill written FOR the insurance companies instead of us. When senators like Rockefeller or Schumer offered amendments that would modify its harmful aspects, they were not allowed to present them for a vote by the committee. Single-payer advocates were rudely told, in effect, to get lost.

    I think what Obama should do before he leaves the country is to ask Congress to amend the bill by substituting an Insurance Reform Agenda Act for the entire bill as it now stands.

    Then, next year, start over on the rest with single-payer advocates (the wish of 65-plus percent of We the People) most assuredly in the room to help write a law that does protect the people, that does save kabillions, and that does cover 100 percent of our population.

  2. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 03/17/2010 - 06:57 am.

    HE is finished either way. When the loyal, liberal Democrats of Massachusetts voted for Scott Brown (41), they voted to impeach Obama for deriliction of duty in the face of mass permanent unemployment of 20 % of America. They need a job, not phony speeches about health care “reform”, written by, and for, the insurance companies.

    If a Republican had promised to cut Medicare by $500 billion, the liberals and progressives would be screaming bloody murder. Now, they are silent, while the elderly wait to die sooner, rather than later.

    Obama is technically a US Citizen, but in reality an enemy alien to the body politic of the United States. He should be forced to resign, ala Richard Nixon. Anyone who goes near him in November, 2010, will be crushed in the election by the righteous wrath of the American people, who deserve better.

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