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“Funk at the White House”

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The Monday dispatch from Clark Judge in D.C.:

Funk at the White House
By Clark S. Judge, managing director of the White House Writers Group in Washington and Special Assistant and speech writer for President Reagan.

The White House staff must be in a funk this morning.

They spent last week insisting that all those irate citizens at congressional and senatorial town hall meetings around the nation were puppets of well-funded, well-organized special interest groups.

But then Sunday’s New York Times-the Obama White House’s very own New York Times – reported that while, yes, opponents have spent $9 million on advertising and the like to date, the President’s supporters have spent $48 million (half to say there’s a problem, half to pump the program before Congress)-a five to one advantage for their side. And the Times’ numbers did not include the value of prime-time presidential news conferences or presidential town hall meetings, with all the start-to-finish cable TV and press coverage such events generate.[# More #]

In other words, in terms of resources, the campaign around the health care overhaul has been overwhelmingly one sided. Normally dominance in resources buys dominance in polling numbers. Not this time.

On this Sunday’s talk shows, Presidential surrogates argued that the American public believes the nation’s health care is broken and want it fixed. It is hard to know whom they thought they were kidding. According to polling from the Rasmusssen organization (judged the nation’s most accurate pollster in the 2008 election), 54 percent of voters would rather seen no program adopted than the one Congress is considering. The anger at the town hall meetings reflects a widespread belief public opinion doesn’t count; Mr. Obama and his overwhelmingly Democratic Congress are determined to go ahead no matter.

Two things are going on here, neither good for the President’s program.

The first has to do with the nature of the plan on the table. As was the failed Truman health overhaul proposal of 1945 and the Clinton one of 1993, the plan that Mr. Obama and his allies are developing is built on a social democratic model. It depends on government rules and mandates and funding administered through new or much enlarged federal agencies. Over more than six decades, whenever a broad social democratic recasting of American health care has been proposed, the nation has said no.

Mr. Obama has tried to make insurance companies the issue. But, as we know, most Americans happy with their insurance and don’t want to lose it. And even those who are not happy know that swapping corporate decision makers for government ones is hardly a step up and could prove a far fall down.

So this is Mr. Obama’s first problem: social democratic style health care is a hard sell in the U.S. Try to push it through has cost the Democratic Party heavily in the election following each run they have made at it. Polls are now suggesting it could the same in the 2010 elections, too.

Mr. Obama’s second problem has to do with the swing House districts — the so-called Blue Dog districts. The Democrats snatched these CDs from the GOP in 2006 and 2008. Disgust with run-ups in spending and deficits by GOP Congressional majorities in the Bush (43) years drove these victories in most if not all cases. The President’s programs to date looks as if it were designed to push this group back to the GOP. A vote for almost any health reform legislation at this point could doom the reelection chances of any blue dog.

In trying to strong arm the Blue Dogs, the President is repeating the mistake Republicans made when they held control of the Congress. Remember that members from these districts were problems for the last GOP Speaker, just as they are for Speaker Pelosi. These CDs don’t fit neatly into either party, so their members don’t. As the GOP has so ably demonstrated, if you compel or persuade them to toe the party line, and you could easily lose them in the next election. The same goes for several Democratic senators.

There is a health care fix that these members and their constituents could accept. It moves control of health decisions away from both government and insurers through expanded health savings accounts, putting ownership of the accounts with the insured, not their employers or the government. And it makes competition among insurers free and intense by saying that if an insurance plan is accepted for sale in any state can be sold in all states.

But Mr. Obama and his colleagues are too dug into their social democratic model for health overhaul to believe that markets not mandates provide the key to fixing what needs fixing without harming everything else.

Here is a safe bet: Until the White House reforms its own reform proposal, the staff can count on many glum days to come.


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