Democratic “Brain Surgery”

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It’s only money, we like to say, when we know we shouldn’t be pulling out our wallets, but …

The ‘but’ is a big one when it comes to health care reform: huge, immense, Himalayan. So big we’re not going to do it, I’ll bet you money. Not this year we’re not, because we’ve barely started to think this thing through. We’re not ready as a country, as a people, to have President Obama and his congressional minions shove down our throats a new, costly, coercive plan for reordering the way we care for ourselves, or for that matter don’t care.

The Democratic-controlled Congressional Budget Office—no aerie of Reaganite stool pigeons—says health care reform a la Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd (the Affordable Health Choices Act) would leave more than twice as many Americans uninsured as it would protect, sort of—36 million to 16 million, respectively. The CBO says, further, the bill would increase federal budget deficits by $1 trillion between 2010 and 2019.

The so-called “public option” that is central to the Kennedy-Dodd design is supposed to keep the private insurance companies honest. The taxpayers would subsidize the public option, making it seem—like any subsidized government program—the way for many to go.

The CBO calculates that 15 million Americans would exit their private plans if Kennedy-Dodd were imposed. Coverage from other sources would fall by 8 million, the CBO says.

This is progress? Large numbers of Americans may be forgiven, perhaps, if they differ on that trivial point.

On Monday, the President assured the American Medical Association that “If we fail to act, premiums will climb higher, benefits will erode further, the rolls of the uninsured will swell to involve millions more Americans …”

The President’s admirers, especially in the media, consider him some speechmaker. He is reasonably good, by post-Reagan standards. If only his speeches had content as well as cadence! The content-less speech, which you can’t remember when it’s over except that it sure sounded good, is the Barack Obama specialty. Audiences eat it up with spoons. He promises change, promises unity, promises transformation. It sounds so good you want to march.

March where? That’s the eternal question with Obama. You won’t find him, I venture, trying to shoot down in public the Congressional Budget Office’s arithmetic—first, because he knows we know it’s no GOP hatchet job; second, because meeting telling objection with telling reply isn’t his stock in trade. He inspires. He rouses. He sends you airborne—without telling you what it’s going to cost when you come down.

That’s the detail stuff—cost. Obama seems to have decided we don’t care about details; we trust him to do the backstage work that makes everything come out right.

The beauty of the Obama phenomenon—and indeed there’s a kind of beauty and unintentional charm to it, as well as vitality—is this: Americans last year were ready for a spot of inspiration—a jolt of moral Tabasco. Obama likes to talk about the problems he inherited from “his predecessor,” George W. Bush. What he never mentions is the automatic clearance he received from Bush, after a long, mostly flat presidency—to soar over the earth like a bird. Soar he did.

Birds, alas, however graceful in flight, have to come down to earth, where a fact is a fact is a fact; where the Congressional Budget Office tells us—without actually telling us—that there’s no such thing as a smooth path to Happy Healthcare Land.

Good ideas—with higher respect for the private sector than the Washington Democrats display—can be found in abundance: none smooth, none easy, none foolproof. The challenge is to start talking and sorting out rather than dictating: wham, wham, do it my way. The Democratic way!

Brain surgery is the most methodical, no-nonsense enterprise anyone ever saw. What’s the matter with politicians who propose to slice up, without X-rays or MRI, the best health care system in the world? No brains? Or too many for their own good?


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