Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For Obama - its about the principles

Over the last few days, many have complained about the lack of leadership or clarity from the Obama administration on health care reform. As I've said elsewhere, I think some of our problem is that we are perhaps too attuned to the 24-hour news cycle and find ourselves riding the roller coaster of every new media sound-byte that stirs up the controversy needed for their ratings.

But I also feel that we're still in the process of getting used to a different style of leadership than we are accustomed to in a POTUS - especially after GWB's unitary executive approach. I think that the more that we understand that style, the less we'll be vulnerable to much of the media's efforts to stir up discontent and will be able to keep our "eyes on the prize" of knowing our role in the process as advocates.

'm not prepared to make a historical comparison of the style of governing for different Presidents. But I have been watching Obama and feel pretty certain about what I'm seeing in his approach. That might change a bit over time as we experience wins and losses, but I suspect that the core principles will remain the same.

What it basically comes down to is that Obama is in the business of reforming the ways that our government doesn't work right now. We're in the middle of a HUGE effort on health care reform. But teed up right behind that are issues of energy reform, immigration reform, and education reform. I'm sure there is more to come - but those are the ones the Obama administration has identified as next up.

In this process of reform - what Obama tends to do is identify the overall principles of the various reform efforts he wants to see. From that, he'll propose policies that he thinks address those reforms, but states his openness to other ideas that would meet the principles. That last line is what often gets progressives confused and frustrated.

As an example BooMan wrote about this process as it relates to EFCA a few months ago. He quoted from an interview Obama had with the Washington Post about this issue.

Q: The Employee Free Choice Act <...> Is card check the only solution? Or are you open to considering other solutions that might shorten the time?

Obama: I think I think that is a fair question and a good one.

Here's my basic principal that wages and incomes have flatlined over the last decade. <...>

I think the basic principal of making it easier and fairer for workers who want to join a union, join a union is important. And the basic outline of the Employee Fair Choice are ones that I agree with. But I will certainly listen to all parties involved including from labor and the business community which I know considers this to be the devil incarnate. I will listen to parties involved and see if there are ways that we can bring those parties together and restore some balance.

You know, now if the business community's argument against the Employee Free Choice Act is simply that it will make it easier for people to join unions and we think that is damaging to the economy then they probably won't get too far with me. If their arguments are we think there are more elegant ways of doing this or here are some modifications or tweaks to the general concept that we would like to see. Then I think that's a conversation that not only myself but folks in labor would be willing to have. But, so that's the general approach that I am interested in taking.


The basic principle is to make it "easier and fairer for workers who want to join a union." Any proposals, including EFCA, that promote that, he's interested in hearing about.

Similarly, on the issue of health care reform, Obama has laid out some broad principles for any reform.

* Reduce Costs — Rising health care costs are crushing the budgets of governments, businesses, individuals and families and they must be brought under control
* Guarantee Choice — Every American must have the freedom to choose their plan and doctor – including the choice of a public insurance option
* Ensure Quality Care for All — All Americans must have quality and affordable health care


In submitting his budget, Obama elaborated on the principles.

The Administration believes that comprehensive health reform should:

* Reduce long-term growth of health care costs for businesses and government
* Protect families from bankruptcy or debt because of health care costs
* Guarantee choice of doctors and health plans
* Invest in prevention and wellness
* Improve patient safety and quality of care
* Assure affordable, quality health coverage for all Americans
* Maintain coverage when you change or lose your job
* End barriers to coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions


As he has said many times, he thinks the public option is the best way to address some of these. But he's open to other proposals that might do so.

The benefits of this kind of strategy are twofold as I see it:

1. It marginalizes the Republicans when he invites them to put their ideas on the table and all they have to say is "no."

2. The debate focuses on the strategies. The principles are taken as the playing field on which discussion happens. They are assumed.

I think that a healthy debate about whether or not this is a good approach is very much worth having. And I suspect that over the next few years, we'll have the opportunity to witness its failures and successes.

But I also think that its important to have this kind of big picture in mind when the ugly work of sausage-making legislating is underway.

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