Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Could Be Worse

Forget about anything with the word “change” in it: “could be worse” should be the motto of the Obama administration. That is faint praise – after Dick Cheney and George Bush, everyone knows, or should know, that it could indeed be worse, much worse – but “could be worse” is about the best that can be said on Obama’s behalf.

Examples abound from every corner of the planet, but especially in Afghanistan and the Middle East, where the Obama administration is, so far, only flirting with disaster; not plunging into it. And, in at least one case, on management of the economy (minus the controversial and unforgivable bail outs of Wall Street profiteers and other “too big to fail” predators) conventional wisdom now agrees. But for Obama’s stimulus package, “Main Street” would be in even worse shape than it now is. Thus it could be worse, but it could also be better because the stimulus was too meager, especially with state and local governments, required by law to balance their budgets, producing counter-stimulus packages of their own.

The inclusion of a public option in the Senate’s health care bill is another, especially timely, example. On the one hand, there will be a public option in the bill because “progressives” in the Democratic Party (I use the term loosely) stood firm. Could it be that after decades of unadulterated pusillanimity the majority party is finally developing a backbone? But Harry Reid’s public option is not a single-payer system (Medicare for all) nor is it a National Health Service type of public option (Veterans Administration health care for all). Thus while it may help many of the 40 million plus uncovered Americans to get health insurance, it will not do very much to lower health care costs.

It would do more in both respects if everyone, not just the uninsured, could buy into it, and if states with reactionary governments (and also, not incidentally, worse health outcomes than is the American norm) were not free to “opt out.” But, as presented yesterday, the Senate bill severely restricts who can buy in and does permit states to opt out. The bill would be better too if it had a real employer mandate and if it didn’t tax so-called Cadillac health plans, many of which unions won for their members by sacrificing wages and other benefits.

Still, we have to look on the sunny side. What will be in the Senate bill is better than nothing, and better than what we would have if Democrats were still determined to cower, for “bipartisanship” reasons, before Olympia Snowe, their one possible Republican collaborator. And, since Reid is nothing if not shrewd, if he decided to include a public option in the bill, it probably means that he has persuaded the most right-wing Democrats in the Senate, Snowe’s co-thinkers, not to hold their colleagues hostage to a Republican filibuster.

Thus Obama will very likely get the kind of health care bill he has been promoting. It’s not much of a solution for what ails us, but it could be worse.

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