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Obama and the Stone Tablets

Posted on Jun 28, 2009
White House / Pete Souza

President Obama listens to Sen. Ted Kennedy at the White House Health Care Summit last March.

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

    Every general studies the mistakes of the last war, and President Obama’s style has been much influenced by the difficulties of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

    In particular, Obama has shied away from handing Congress his own plans on “stone tablets,” a phrase much loved by senior adviser David Axelrod, and instead allowed it room to legislate.

    The president has won a lot, including a decent stimulus bill and laws on children’s health coverage, tobacco regulation and employment discrimination that, in less exciting times, would have been seen as landmarks. But the stimulus bill was neither as good nor as large as it might have been, and there was a legislative train wreck on Obama’s effort to close Guantanamo prison.

    And then there’s his centerpiece campaign to reform the health care system.

    Obama’s initial approach of laying out principles and giving Congress latitude was the right response to Clinton’s mistake of offering an immensely detailed proposal, only to see it mocked and rejected.


Square, Site wide
    Yet two big problems now confront health care reform that only Obama’s intervention can solve.

    The first is the absence of substantial Republican support for comprehensive change. Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has done practically everything short of making ethanol a reimbursable prescription drug in order to win the heart of his good Republican friend from Iowa, Chuck Grassley.

    I’m told that Grassley, under immense pressure from Republican colleagues not to deal at all, has informed Baucus that he cannot sign on to a bill if it is supported by only one other Republican, the sensible Olympia Snowe of Maine. Grassley needs more cover from more-conservative colleagues. 

    This creates a terrible dynamic in which Baucus is pushed toward one concession after another. It’s a setup for a sellout. And the compromise Baucus is likely to produce cannot be the final word.

    In the meantime, Democrats are divided among themselves on two central issues.

    The first is over how to pay for expanded coverage. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama stoutly opposed paying for new health care proposals by taxing existing health care benefits. The Democrats’ allies in the unions are prepared to go to war if Obama backs off this pledge.

    The unions argue plausibly that their members gave up wages in exchange for high-end health plans. Reform, they say, should not come at the expense of middle-class workers already in fragile economic circumstances.

    But other liberals see taxing generous health care packages, particularly those of high-income people, as a logical extension of the progressive idea that the better-off should assist the less privileged. Some liberals also worry that if health care is paid for by more general tax increases, those levies will be unavailable later when it comes time to control the deficit without slashing programs.

    Then there is the issue of offering a government-run health plan as one alternative in a reformed insurance market.

    Obama was right to offer a sturdy defense of the public plan last week. “If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best-quality health care,” he said, “why is it that the government—which they say can’t run anything—suddenly is going to drive them out of business?”

    And those who call themselves fiscal conservatives should be the public option’s strongest supporters, since it provides the best hope of holding down the costs of universal coverage.

    There are progressives (probably including Obama) who would trade the public plan for a strong universal coverage bill if it included genuinely tough rules on the insurance companies. What should be avoided above all is a fake public plan hemmed in by so many restrictions that it would be doomed to failure.

    My own preference is for a bill with a strong public plan financed by broader tax increases on the best-off Americans. Still, there are many routes to universal coverage—the recent proposal by former Senate leaders Tom Daschle and Bob Dole deserves more attention than it’s received—and some compromises will be necessary.

    The key is that no compromise should be allowed to undermine the long-term goals of covering everybody and containing costs. Concessions made for purely political reasons could produce an unworkable monstrosity of a bill.

    And that’s why Obama needs to weigh in now. He should toughen Baucus’ negotiating strategy, and he’ll have to mediate among liberals. He doesn’t need stone tablets, just an iron will.
    E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
    © 2009, Washington Post Writers Group


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By christian96, July 3, 2009 at 6:53 am Link to this comment

Idarad—-Thanks for the correction.  I got it from
a friend.  It would be more appropriate to say,
“It will not happen again in most of our lifetimes.”

Report this

By ardee, July 3, 2009 at 3:50 am Link to this comment

idarad, July 1 at 7:15 pm #

“Time is a river of events,
and its current is strong.
No sooner does a thing appear in its flow
than it is swept away,
and another takes its place,
until that too is carried from sight.” 
Marcus Aurelius

“No man can step into the same river twice,
for the second time its not the same river,
and he is not the same man.”

“Time is but the stream I go a’fishing in. I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper, fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbled with stars.”

Report this

By idarad, July 1, 2009 at 4:15 pm Link to this comment

Christian96 writes

Lighten up on the business and politics.  What you
folks need is some good hard facts:

At five minutes and six seconds after 4 AM on the 8th of July this year, the time and date will be 04:05:06 07/08/09.

    This will never happen again

Sorry it will in a hundred years

Report this

By Cathy, July 1, 2009 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

KDelphi, I am going to make myself sick if I keep listening to Obama.  I could feel my blood pressure rising.  The crowd was sedate—or sedated—and too polite.  No single-payer advocates holding up signs there and interrupting the proceedings.  Everybody vetted to make Obama look good.  So he’s taken another page out of the Bush playbook—pre-screen everybody, bring somebody in who will bring tears to your eyes and hug them—but make sure you don’t give them a real solution to their problem. 

Awful, frustrating as hell.  I’ve transcribed town hall meetings on hot-button issues and, boy, they were nothing like this.  They were animated and the tough questions were asked.  At a real town hall meeting Obama would have been forced to shut up and listen, for once. 

I’ve read that Obama is a decent human being, but I’m really having a hard time seeing it right now.  To me it looks like he’s sold his soul for the status quo.

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By KDelphi, July 1, 2009 at 11:34 am Link to this comment

I am sitting here listeining to Obama’s pablum speech in Virginia in the background…gawd, is he ever full of it.

Health care as a human right is about more than health care. It is like a “keystone species” signifies the health of the environemnt. I think health care for the few is “keystone” to how US “democracy” is falling apart.

If you do not believe that your fellow citizens lives are worth saving, than your Republic is lost.

Thats’ what i think.

If citizens refuse other citizens the basics of life, in a country with such huge disparties in income, the Republic will crumble. There is no unity.

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, June 30, 2009 at 2:03 am Link to this comment

Post 2.

“An estimated 10,000 people convened on the Capitol to call on Congress to move swiftly and decisively to pass legislation for sweeping health care reform, reform that will help millions and millions of Americans who are uninsured and under-insured. The rally, organized by Health Care for America Now, heard repeatedly from individuals crying out for quality, affordable health care. The placards saying that health care reform cannot wait rose high above the throngs of community groups, labor activists, nurses, doctors, and ordinary people who came from all corners of the U.S. to make their case.

If you aren’t following the health care debate, you should be. It affects every single individual in the U.S., and the very bedrock of our ailing economy. As one speaker explained it, it’s always been a morally-imperative thing to do to provide insurance to all Americans, but now, it’s an economic necessity, as our lack of universal health care interferes with our ability to prosper as a nation.”

Keep talking, keep fighting and stick together.  NEVER GIVE UP THE SHIP.

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By Outraged, June 30, 2009 at 2:02 am Link to this comment

Post 1.

From Pnhp:

The Congressional Budget Office projects that single payer would reduce overall health costs by $225 billion by 2004 despite the expansion of comprehensive care to all Americans. No other plan projects this kind of savings.

Republicans for Single-Payer:

Billed this way:
A healthy community has and needs incentives to develop a wholesome infrastructure for residents: 
* Promoting employability and productivity
* Local empowerment for safety, security, health and education systems
* Empowering residents to fulfill their potential, enjoy life and contribute to society

Single payer is the only fiscally and morally responsible option.  Insurance companies won’t go out of business, they will merely change.  Health insurance isn’t the only racket they run, that’s just a dodge from the millions they’ve been skimming off the top in Health-care dollars.

Single Payer Action, Adam Schneider (arrested by Baucus):

”“Every day when I go into work I see people who don’t have health insurance and can’t get the care that they need or have extreme difficulties getting the care they need. It’s outrageous.”

“It’s outrageous in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in hiostory — that people can’t get the health care that they need,” Schneider says.”

He’s absolutely right, it’s outrageous to consider the amount of money we’d save with single payer and yet still, be denied health-care IN THE RICHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, while people suffer and die. Unbelieveable…..

Counterpunch, Dr. Carol Paris:

“On June 3, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) met with national leaders of the single-payer movement and admitted that it was a mistake not to include single-payer advocates in his health reform roundtables. He also vowed to use the power of his office to make sure the charges were dropped against me and the other 12 people arrested.

However, at our status hearing on Monday, the U.S. attorney informed us that his office had received no such message from Sen. Baucus and offered us a plea bargain: 40 hours of community service in Washington, D.C., for those living in the D.C. area, and 100 hours for those opting to do their service outside of Washington.”

So, come on down to the National Mall and visit while I spend 40 hours picking up trash. Unfortunately, this is 40 hours I could have spent seeing patients or advocating for universal, comprehensive, health care reform. And feel free to contact Sen. Baucus and let him know what you think of his reneging on his promise.

That’s an attempt to demean her, humiliation is a tactic.  Why is she being humiliated…. because she stood as one of the rightful heirs of America demanded to be heard and cared about her fellow citizens.  Baucus is a low life.

Report this

By christian96, June 29, 2009 at 10:39 pm Link to this comment

Lighten up on the business and politics.  What you
folks need is some good hard facts:

At five minutes and six seconds after 4 AM on the 8th of July this year, the time and date will be 04:05:06 07/08/09.

      This will never happen again

Report this
godistwaddle's avatar

By godistwaddle, June 29, 2009 at 5:30 pm Link to this comment

Tee-hee.  You really think Obama, bought to the very bone by Wall Street and the insurance companies, is gonna do ANYTHING for you other than mandate you buy insurance from the people who’ve screwed you in the past?  Naifs!!

Report this

By ardee, June 29, 2009 at 2:36 pm Link to this comment

“So here is the question?  What would happen if Obama suddenly came out and said I have done my homework and single-payer is the best choice for America?  What if he listed all of the pros versus the cons—right out there in black and white, in a tough FDR style?  Fantasies like this give me hope, which is really getting tough to hold onto.”
Cathy, June 29 at 4:36 pm

Well, Cathy, what might happen is conjecture but a bit of fun. Firstly I might drop dead of shock! Do you believe that Obama would seek to kill the goose that laid his seven hundred million dollar egg? Or leave his party at the mercy of campaign contributions from only the voter?

If Obama actually stood up and called for single payer health care he would be reversing his course as well. He would be the target of an even bigger propaganda campaign that ever Hillary Clinton experienced. I suspect that he would have to go against all his “principles” to do such as this.

We already have a majority of doctors and nurses calling for single payer but the public must not be listening close enough. But then, who in government listens to the public anyway?

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By ocjim, June 29, 2009 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment

Personally, I think that the Democrats have already sold us out to the lobbyists who support them.

Health care reform is probably one of the most vital if not the most vital changes our country needs—for fairness, for equal economic footing, for personal freedom and for universal well-being. Obama is speaking that language but he seems to be leaving its implementation up to the US Congress.

When was the last time our members of Congress collectively did something noble for their constituents? I’m hard put for an answer, but I would say LBJs Great Society legislation in the 1960s.

The Viet Nam War, the succession of Nixon and Reagan, and the decline of union power seemed to end Congress’s penchant for helping the middle class. Lobbyists for the well-heeled have filled in the union void.

We were dismissed entirely during the Reagan and Bush years and given a glimmer of attention by Clinton. Now the fix in favor of the health care industry will be a little more subtle.

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By Cathy, June 29, 2009 at 1:36 pm Link to this comment

Again, I can’t add much more onto this.  Single-payer—yes, the words that dare not be spoken—is the only way, really.  But the buzz words are get health insurance versus health care.  We all know the words should be health care. 

The big sticking point is the insurance companies.  I don’t remember where I’ve heard this, I’ve read so much stuff, but somewhere in my reading there have been statements, maybe by Obama, of the fear of job loss in the insurance industry.  Under single-payer neither doctors nor hospitals will need the army of paperwork shufflers as they have now.  Don’t doubt for a minute that they’re not thinking about this. 

Change is painful.  On the other hand, the loss in innovation and job growth that we will suffer in the short and long term because of the continuance employer-provided health benefits must be overriding.  Insurance companies need to be cut down to a reasonable supplemental size.

So here is the question?  What would happen if Obama suddenly came out and said I have done my homework and single-payer is the best choice for America?  What if he listed all of the pros versus the cons—right out there in black and white, in a tough FDR style?  Fantasies like this give me hope, which is really getting tough to hold onto.

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By Mary Ann McNeely, June 29, 2009 at 1:08 pm Link to this comment

. . . a reformed insurance market.

This is an impossibility.

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By Anarcissie, June 29, 2009 at 9:33 am Link to this comment

I don’t see the stimulus bill as “decent”.  It seems to me that large amounts of dubious money have been given to banks and corporations.  This is the sort of thing which led the crises of 2007 and 2008, so I think that, after a brief respite, we must expect the crisis to return, only on a larger scale.

The realm of providing and paying for medical care is similarly structured.  Some people make a great deal of money from present arrangements, and others have good jobs.  Money talks, politicians heed (or they cease to be politicians).  This is another area where I expect to observe continued inflation and obfuscation until some sort of collapse occurs.

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By dihey, June 29, 2009 at 7:10 am Link to this comment

The election of president Obama has already become a textbook example of a systemic and insane weakness of our current governance. Compare his starting record with that of a British party that has just come to power. During the election campaign the British party has told the voters quite precisely what it intends to do, and has its cabinet and its legislative program at the ready on the day it assumes power. Candidates for our presidency rarely tell the voters precisely what legislation they will send to Congress and they do not have a cabinet plus legislative proposals at the ready on inauguration day. Forget the so-called “program planks” which are conveniently forgotten on the day when the nominating convention ends. As a result, following inaugurations, weeks and months are wasted with finding cabinet members and the crafting of proposed legislation. The inevitable result is the famous and timid “flip flopping governance”. Apparently it is only when external threats (communism, terrorism) are invoked that legislation can be rammed quickly through Congress, which is what Bush did so successfully. By the time when serious legislation is sent to Congress the opposition has had time to weaken the governing president’s program which is exactly what has happened to Obama.
Those who continue to accept and support this asinine method of governance have no reason to complain that it produces garbage. I will never again vote for a candidate who does not tell me who will be in his/her cabinet and which laws he/she and the vice president will submit to congress during the first few months of their tenure.
Exhibit one: the closing of Guantanamo. On the day of President Obama’s inauguration he and his team had not yet the foggiest idea of how that could be done in one year. America deserves such governance because it tolerates this nonsense.
Exhibit two: health insurance. On that same day the team had not yet crafted its proposal to Congress. Even today they do not have a proposal ready to send to Congress. Is this madness, or what?

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By ardee, June 29, 2009 at 2:54 am Link to this comment

Ahhh if we only had a govt of the people, by the people and for the people…if only.

Perhaps I am naive in the ways of Washington politics, maybe I do not understand the way the “will” of the people is enacted as well. It seems to me that polls show an overwhelming support for health care reform by the electorate, yet we hear such as Sen. Grassley insist he needs support from his party rather than that he needs to enact the will of his constituency. A telling statement that.

If our elected representatives truly represented us they would perceive the power we wield and come to us for support of the health care initiative. If Grassley got a flood of letters, emails and phone calls from his own folks back home perhaps he would not look so long and hard over his shoulder at the party leadership, instead focusing his attention where it belongs.

None of these corrupt and inept fools, whether Democrat or Republican, look to the people unless an election is in the offing.

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By tahitifp, June 29, 2009 at 12:58 am Link to this comment

I can hear Obama equivocating from here.

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By Commune115, June 29, 2009 at 12:41 am Link to this comment

We can all forget about meaningful change taking place. Obama isn’t going to do anything that will rock the boat too much for insurance companies, and all the other corporate interests already entrenched in our current health system.

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By G.Anderson, June 28, 2009 at 11:43 pm Link to this comment

Stimulus package are you kidding? That went to the banks so they could start the motor of the economy again, instead they paid bonuses to themselves. Now we need another one, and don’t have the money. So the economy will keep sinking.

Health care reform? Just another version of the same process that ruined the stimulus package. Most likely the same outcome. No real reform, no public option.

Sadly, I have a feeling that this is a preview of the next 4 years.

Meanwhile, people are continuing to fall off a cliff, and now the states are going with them. Soon there will be a catastrophic economic crisis in Washington that will make California’s crisis look insignificant.

Analysis is paralysis - With an indecisive government in Washington that has it’s hands tied by the corporations. Mr. Obama will soon become the issue rather than the problems he’s dealing with. When that happens, we’ll be just marking time to the next election. 

Obviously, rule by analysis and accomondation, isn’t working.

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By P. T., June 28, 2009 at 10:34 pm Link to this comment

E.J. Dionne writes, “There are progressives (probably including Obama) who would trade the public plan for a strong universal coverage bill if it included genuinely tough rules on the insurance companies.”

What genuinely tough rules?  The inefficient insurance companies are getting government subsidies now so they can compete in the Medicare market.  No public option would make universal coverage unaffordable.

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By KDelphi, June 28, 2009 at 10:06 pm Link to this comment

I wish someone would use the stone tablets on Axelrod’s head—-and make him pay for the stitches.

The Baucus plan is crap and he has made so many “concessions”, his lips must be sore. The problem is that “progressives” (?) like Obama and Baucus dont believe in universal coverage anyway.

Is health care a human right or not, Dionne? If it is , then the question of profits should be moot.

If an “iron will” is needed, youve got the wrong man..Dems have the way (majorities) but not the will. They will lose alot of people over this watered-down, horrible plan that is another giant gift to the insurance industry.

I hope that they enjoy the money that they will be given. If will be difficult, though, to think of all the people who will die “waiting” for the “road” to “universal care”—except you, if youre really sick and poor.

I say, everybody out, nobody in.

All those on private plan, including Congressional members who wish to get re-elected, give up health care plans (like Kucinich has) until everyone is covered. They can afford it alot better than most.

Shame on the Dems…Baucus is disgusting.

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