I don't know about you, but to me it feels pretty 1993 of late. The economy's in the dumps; a new president is headed into office; that new president is taking many of the same faces from that 1993 White House with him; and both Republicans and the media are trying to bait Democrats into a divisive fight over a corporate written trade deal. But out of all that news - some good, some bad - the best is that there's some pretty serious talk of universal health care in the air. As I say in my new weekly newspaper column out today, that latter news is really encouraging -- and if played correctly, we can avoid the health care debacle of the early 1990s.
As I was writing this column, some really terrific health care news was breaking:
- Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and Max Baucus (yes, that Max Baucus!) both signaled their intent to push the Obama administration to make universal health care a top priority right out of the gate.
- The Obama transition team designated Tom Daschle as the incoming HHS Secretary and universal health care czar.
- The Wall Street Journal reported that Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel "challenged chief executives and other business leaders to join the new administration in a push for universal health care, saying incremental increases in coverage won't be acceptable." Emanuel said, "I'm challenging you today, we're going to have to do big, serious things."
- The health insurance industry's trade association issued a press release actually acknowledging that the industry is going to have to make real concessions to progressives.
Taken together, this is a health care game-changer from 1993, and all the more so considering the fact that the Democratic congressional majorities are far more robust and durable than they were back then.
As I point out in the column, though, this is going to be a very difficult battle, because the Braindead Megaphone (as one of my favorite writers, George Saunders, calls it) will do everything it can to defeat universal health care. The inevitable criticism will be a derivative of the "socialist" attacks on Obama by the right -- and while Obama was able to handily fight that off during the campaign, it's going to get even more intense if he does, in fact, move forward on health care.
The good news is that times have changed, and so have the politics.
Despite the "center-right nation" garbage, empirical public opinion data shows America is a decidedly center-left nation, especially on the issue of health care. As the column shows, Obama now has a budget imperative not to avoid health care -- but to reform it immediately.
The only thing that hasn't changed is the oddly accurate words of conservative Bill Kristol on the issue. I know that seems crazy -- because, after all, Kristol is almost always crazy. But like a stopped watch being right twice a day, he's right on the political tectonics of this issue, and I'll let you read the whole column to see exactly why I say that.
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