About Me & This Website
My Positions
On Facebook
Contact Me

  DougCo School Board Loss
  Pro-Caucus Chairman
  Free the Delegates
  Clinton Surplus Myth
  Taxes, Rich & Poor
  Clinton Surplus Myth, Pt. 2
  Financial Crisis
  Obama's Economy
  More articles...

Obama's Declaration of War   September 9th, 2009
Yes, I'll be watching       


More observations...

I haven't watched one of President Obama's media events in months after it became clear that they were essentially devoid of content. Tonight, however, I'll be watching.

It all comes down to the public option. That's where the question lies, that's where the divisions primarily exist, and it's the issue that everyone wants to see Obama take a firm position on one way or the other.

Obama has to say something clear on his position on the public option. If he waffles or isn't specific, after promises that everyone will come away from the speech knowing what Obama thinks, the growing perception that Obama doesn't say anything specific will be greatly magnified to the level of caricature. He can't "change the game" tonight without actually changing the game.

The conventional wisdom I've seen in the media for the last week is that he's going to be willing to compromise on the public option. My liberal sister has told me she expects that health care reform is going to die. But I've had my reservations. And I wrote last week that it looked, to me, as though he was going to cram the public option down our throats.

To call a joint session of Congress just to say the president is willing to throw liberals under the bus seems like a bad political move. If you're going to sacrifice your core supporters, you do that discretely. You don't call a joint session of Congress and shout it with a megaphone and publicly burn your hard-core supporters unless you're truly interested in reaching across the aisle and striving for bipartisanship; you only do that if you're so interested and committed to bipartisanship that you're planning on making up for lost votes in your own party by gaining a larger number of votes from across the aisle.

The first six months of Obama's presidency has shown us that Obama has no interest in reaching across the aisle or in bipartisanship, so this would seem like an unlikely tactic.

And now, it appears, I was right:

President Barack Obama, in a high-stakes speech Wednesday to Congress and the nation, will press for a government-run insurance option in a proposed overhaul of the U.S. health-care system that has divided lawmakers and voters for months.

The signals coming out of the White House have been flip-flopping for the last week, but it would seem that this final flop coming down on the side of a public option is the most likely. It's what I thought a week ago, it's consistent with Obama's ideology, it's consistent with rejecting bipartisanship, and it's what makes sense politically.

Even though this makes sense politically, this is a risky move.

This would seem to suggest that he has chosen the nuclear option in the Senate. This is a declaration of war on Republicans; a level of war that Republicans never declared on Democrats when Republicans were in the majority. Further, while the president making this declaration at the beginning of the debate would have simply been considered to be framing the debate, at this point, after the unrest among constituents in August and amid plummeting popular support for health care reform, this will most likely be construed as Obama and the Democrats giving the middle finger to the majority of voters in America.

The question is whether Democrats in the Senate will be willing to go along with the nuclear option.

The Senate is very traditional and generally takes their traditions seriously. The nuclear option, "reconciliation," was not intended for this type of legislation. And given the popular unrest and falling public support, it's not necessarily a given that all Democrats in the Senate would support the nuclear option. Democrats in the Senate may support a public option, but they might not support resorting to the nuclear option and violating Senate traditions to get it done.

Having said that, I have to assume that the Obama administration has done a head count in the Senate and has made sure that if they want to go the nuclear route, that the Senate will actually go along with them. The only thing worse for the White House than to threaten the nuclear option is to make the threat and then have the Senate unwilling to carry it out.

My observation is that this is a case of Obama truly mimicking one of his heroes, FDR. FDR, in order to further his policies, attempted to stack the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was not sympathetic so he attempted to circumvent the court. This was obvious and was rejected. Today, we have a Senate that, even with a healthy Democrat majority, is not necessarily sympathetic enough to pass Obama's legislation. So Obama will effectively circumvent the Senate by using the "nuclear" option.

Will this work? It'll be interesting. Again, I have to assume the administration has counted their support in the Senate to make sure they have the votes. But, if that's the case, it's amazing that Democrat Senators are so beholden to the president that they're willing to undermine the Senate's independence and traditions for a single piece of partisan legislation. This course of action could set a precedent that could effectively end the concept of the filibuster.

This goes against Senate tradition and the American people. I suspect there will be electoral hell to pay in 2010 if this is the course of action that has been chosen.

The more likely scenario is that this is a game of chicken. The president is effectively telling Republicans, "Either work with us or we're going to steamroll you." It's a question of who will blink first. Republicans currently have the support of the American people in opposing this, so I hope Republican Senators realize there's no reason for them to blink. Even if Obama "compromises" down to a "trigger" for a public option, Republicans must reject it--a trigger for a bad idea only delays the bad idea.

If the president threatens the nuclear option, Republicans should make him carry out that threat. At that point Obama and the Democrats, as well as Republicans, will be "all in." Voters can then make the call in 2010.

I'll have my popcorn ready to watch the president's address to Congress this evening.

Update a Few Minutes Later: There truly seems to be no agreement on what will be said tonight. The following article, posted about the same time as the article I cited above, says there's a move away from the public option:

Political momentum appeared to swing sharply against the public health insurance option prized by liberals Tuesday, on the eve of President Barack Obama's address to a joint session of Congress.

As politically bad and entertaining as pushing the public option would be, I don't see how the alternative is any better for Obama. Unless he has convinced Pelosi and other House Democrats to abandon the public option... or perhaps a "trigger" is enough to get House Democrats on board and Senate Democrats to drop their opposition. But I don't see how any principled opposition to a public option can be addressed by a "trigger."

Regardless, less than 8 hours before the president's address to Congress, it appears that no-one really knows what he's going to say. Is this because the administration doesn't know what it's going to say? Or is it to water down expectations so that he can forcefully support a public option to an elated Congress? Or are expectations being lowered because we really shouldn't expect anything from this speech?

Like I said, I'll be getting the popcorn ready.

 Go to the article list