Time to Stop the Health Care Tease
Each desk in the West Wing of the White House should have the same sign on it as the staff helps the president prepare for his health care speech on Wednesday: KISS.
Keep It Specific, Stupid.
This is no time for a lofty speech. We do not need inspiration. The time for inspiration has passed — the time for perspiration is at hand.
Even though the speech will be before Congress, this should not be a State of the Union Address with soaring flights of rhetoric.
We need to know what the president wants. Specifically.
We need to know how he is going to pay for it. Specifically.
We need to know what he will accept and what he will reject. Specifically.
Nobody likes a tease, and it is now time for the White House to stop teasing about health care. If the president truly is committed to a public option, he should say so. Plainly. Flatly. Finally.
The public option is not, by the way, what the left wing of the Democratic Party wants, as some have charged.
The left wing of the Democratic Party wants a single-payer plan like Canada has. The mainstream of the party — the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party — wants a public option. Obama used to be part of that wing. We'll learn Wednesday night if he still is.
The reason for a public option is the one that Obama stated to the American Medical Association on June 15: "You will have your choice of a number of plans that offer a few different packages, but every plan would offer an affordable, basic package ... one of these options needs to be a public option that will give people a broader range of choices and inject competition into the health care market ... (to) force waste out of the system and keep the insurance companies honest."
The public option keeps the insurance companies honest because it provides competition. Without the public option, the health care industry gets a huge bonus — 46 million new customers — but doesn't have to operate any better or less expensively.
Why is there confusion? Because in August, Obama said at a town hall meeting in Grand Junction, Colo.: "The public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform.
So is the public option just an expendable sliver or the driving force behind true health care reform? No wonder people are confused. But the confusion can end — must end — Wednesday. Wednesday, Mr. President, is time to say what you mean and mean what you say.
And here is one other piece of unsolicited advice: Don't worry about winning over the crazies and the weasels. The crazies will call you a socialist, fascist, Hitlerite, Stalinist — and born in Kenya, to boot! — no matter what you say. Forget about them.
And forget about people like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. A Republican, he had committed to work for bipartisan reform but went to a town hall meeting in Winterset, Iowa, and told the crowd it had "every right to fear" a government plan "to pull the plug on Grandma."
If you look up "weasel" in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of Grassley.
Obama's commitment to bipartisanship does not include a commitment to getting stabbed in the back. If the Republicans don't want to climb aboard on health care reform, they can stand by the side of the tracks. Either way, the train can still leave the station.
But before it can, the president has to state plainly how he wants to pay for it. By taxing health care benefits? By taxing "Cadillac" plans only? By taxing people making more than $1 million per year? By taxing those making more than $250,000 per year? Tell us. We need to know. The president should not try to sugarcoat the cost of universal health care. That cost is going to be massive: Ten years of health care for every American probably will cost us what we have paid for the Iraq war up to now.
Which would you rather have?
And even though it may seem impolite to go to Capitol Hill and talk about executive power, the president should tell members of Congress what he will accept and what he will veto.
That is not arrogance. It is leadership. It is what we need.
What we don't need Wednesday night is a speech up on the mountaintop, lost in the clouds.
We need a speech down in the trenches, filled with gritty specifics and, yes, a line in the sand.
As the old saying goes, if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.
It is time for President Obama to tell us what he really stands for.
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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