Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obama on Healthcare

One of my favorite economists, Arnold Kling, writes a piece on the misstatements about Obama's healthcare plan.
I particularly like the characterization that Obama is trying to avoid the mistakes that Hillary Clinton made.

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton failed because she presented a plan and it was shot down. So it is really clever to not have a plan, and instead to get behind something that will pass and call it a plan. (Speaking of Hillarycare, its main source of funding was going to be cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements that everybody knew would never be adopted in practice. Apparently, Baucuscare retains that feature. The NY Times rounds up more commentary on the Baucus plan, which itself is not fully spelled out, although it runs to 225 pages.) If our democracy penalizes those who spell out their plans and rewards those who do not, then that is one more bad mark against our democracy.

I concur with Kling that it is very tricksy that Obama should continue to invoke "his" plan where none exists. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is "lying". (An aside: if Kling were a member of Congress he wouldn't be allowed to disseminate such utterances, reference). I would rather characterize it as quite deliberate politicking that he should allow the members of Congress to write, debate, revise, and pass a healthcare bill with only the most broad and general outlines of a plan that he could call his own (only bullet points really). While the media lambasts "Baucuscare", Obama will be left in the clear to mull with his mediocre approval ratings.

While I strongly believe that this approach is very smart and calculated, I don't think that this "hands-off" approach to governance is wise in the long-run. In the short term: it is unlikely that with a Democratic majority in Congress they will pass a plan that he radically disagrees with, but he is gambling with not having a big enough impact on an issue that obviously means a great deal to him. For instance, the public option is the point that most leftists want to see, and by-and-large seems to be fading in importance in all of the bills under consideration (to garner moderate support). In the long run, the risk Obama is playing with is not creating enough of a legislative imprint to be of any historical interest save for his election in the first place.


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