Monday, August 31, 2009

You know it, I know it, the American people know it.

Bob Dole knows it. And the White House ought to listen.

As the President and Hill Democrats are trying to get their act together on health care reform after a rough August recess that saw members of Congress berated at town halls and the President's poll numbers arrive at a new low, the one time presidential contender from Kansas had some tough love for Mr. Obama in an op-ed in today's Washington Post. In his piece, entitled "Starting Over On Health Care," the former Senate Majority Leader strongly urges the President begin anew on health care by submitting his own bill to Congress: "After 35 years in Congress, I know there are times when a fresh start is advisable."

Dole accurately assesses the state of play on health care reform with the sage wisdom of having spent over three decades playing the game himself in Washington. He makes a strong case for the White House to do what I'd wish they'd done all along; introduce a White House resolution that establishes exactly what the President wants in his reform package and allows the debate, which has so far been errant and unfocused due to the confusing, "choking" array of legislative drafts by various congressional committees, to center around the President's central tenets of reform.

If I were a White House adviser, I would suggest that the day Congress reconvenes, President Obama's version of reform should be introduced by Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Health-care reform is the vital issue of our time, and Obama should be out front with his specific plan on this make-or-break issue.

Many of us were taught that the president proposes and Congress disposes. Today, Congress is doing both -- with the president relegated to the role of cheerleader in chief as he campaigns for various House committees' efforts. Certainly, Obama supports much in these proposals -- but Barack Obama is our president, not a commentator.

Obama's approval numbers would jump 10 points if Americans knew he was fully in charge. A tactical move of introducing his own plan would also stir more Republicans to become active for reform in critical areas. Right now the president's biggest problem is with congressional Democrats, who are split and searching for a way out of the medical wilderness.

Dole goes on to warn Democrats against using reconciliation in the Senate to pass any reform package, advice I hope is heeded. "Indeed," he writes, "most important legislation in U.S. history has had broad bipartisan support." Whether or not Republicans offer positive reform ideas in the form of amendments to any bill President Obama might submit is yet to be seen, but once the President has "staked out his position...the debate will narrow, and bipartisan bargaining and other political maneuvering can begin."

Perhaps Dole's suggestion is precisely what the White House wanted to do all along. I do not believe they fully imagined the opposition movement manifesting itself in the way it did, with angry town halls and the galactically absurd myths and rumors that abound which have hijacked the debate and has caused headaches for all involved in the reform effort. But perhaps this August recess was a time for the President and his administration to take their beatings, reset, and refocus. Knowing this President, it's hard to imagine him not coming out of the recess this month swinging hard; looking at his short-term political future, I'm sure his advisors are pushing the hard sell as "do or die." But tantamount to the success of the sell is reclaiming the debate on health care and the issue itself, and putting the President back in charge instead of in the position of "cheerleader-in-chief" for various committee drafts that only serve to convolute the national discussion. Dole's piece is today's must read.

Step into the rain:

1 comment:

  1. Something we agree on! Basically Bob Dole is saying the age-old adage of if you want something done the way you want it, you have to do it yourself.