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Hurtling toward a train wreck

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

Nobody could have been happier to see August end than the liberals pushing government-run health care. The month, to put it mildly, was not kind to President Obama and his allies. Their worst nightmares were realized -- Americans examined the bills being proposed and turned out in great numbers to voice their opposition.

What we can expect in September is another matter. Desperate times call for desperate means -- or so liberals will think. Those who oppose this hostile takeover of one-sixth of our economy must be ready.

Proponents of Obamacare will not succeed, however, if everyone understands what unfolded last month. Simply put, the American people took matters into their own hands before the politicians could have their way.

Let's be very clear about what happened here. Your leaders did not want you to scrutinize the profound changes they were proposing, and the best excuse they offered was that you, the American people, were too stupid to understand it.

This isn't mere hyperbole. Politicians pushing for an overhaul of our health care system sat down with people from the Heritage Foundation and actually said, many times, such things as: "We have to pass this before the American people can read it. They will not understand it, and people will tell them bad things about it."

But the American people did understand. They realized that the overhaul the left proposes threatens the good quality care that most receive. They sensed, moreover, that their leaders were trying to rush through complex and far-reaching changes that would have unforeseen cultural and economic consequences.

The health care industry is worth $2.5 trillion a year, comparable with Britain's entire gross domestic product and larger than that of most European countries. Can you imagine Britain's entire economy being reordered by a few people working secretly in backrooms in a matter of weeks? What are the chances they could ever get that right?

But the American people cannot take all the credit for slowing down this train wreck. Some of it should go to White House communicators who came up with arguments that were ludicrous on their face, such as insisting that a public option would introduce "competition" into the health insurance market.

Thank God we commissioned a Lewin Group study that made it clear that more than 88 million Americans would lose their private insurance if a government competitor were created. These numbers made it abundantly clear that the "government option" would quickly become the only option. And as a Heritage study just showed Friday, Obamacare will cost U.S. businesses up to $49 billion a year and will mean that as many as 5.5 million Americans could lose their job.

The Congressional Budget Office, with its numbers showing that the plans being proposed wouldn't lower costs but raise them, drove in another valuable nail.

So this is where we are, and where we have been. But where are we going? One thing is clear: The president obviously plans to take a more active role in promoting his version of reform. A major address to both houses of Congress is planned for Sept. 9.

Those tempted to invoke the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's name to pass health care bills should remember that he was not revered in all quarters. Doing so would be a tactical error on their part.

So would using reconciliation to ram through a bill, as Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York and former Democratic Party leader Howard Dean are advocating. Reconciliation -- a legislative process that requires only a 51-vote majority in the 100-seat Senate, rather than the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster -- is expressly meant only for budgetary matters. Its use would divide the country further and reduce the U.S. Senate to being no more deliberative than the House of Representatives.

Nor should the president and his allies try to disguise the same rejected "reform" under a different name. Renaming the public option a "co-op" is disingenuous, for example. It all amounts to the same thing: a single-payer system, which means the only choice Americans would have is a government package.

We also must anticipate the protests that the president's supporters expect to mount over the coming weeks. These protests are facilitated by the White House campaign apparatus Organizing for America and the same people who called those who turned out in August "astroturf."

Going forward, we do need to fix America's health system, but in a common-sense way that is in synch with our country's values. If we are going to redesign it, we will have to do it in stages, learning from our many mistakes. We are going to have to encourage states to take the lead in figuring out how to proceed. Mr. Obama could get broad support in town-hall meetings and across the aisle for this agenda if he is willing to embrace it.

What he needs to realize after his return from Martha's Vineyard is that -- as he has often said -- this isn't about him, it's about the country. And the country has rejected what he is proposing. The people have understood. As Ronald Reagan frequently reminded us: Trust the people.

Edwin J. Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation.