Obamacare quickly emerged as the first major issue of the congressional transition. The president says tweak it. We say scrap it.
As was widely predicted, Obamacare turned out to be a quick retirement plan for the moderate Democrats who were strong-armed into supporting it. The GOP tidal wave did not buoy the fortunes of Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, the only Republican who cast a vote supporting the health care bill, who also lost his seat. A number of pre- and post-election polls showed that Obamacare was not the electoral elixir that Democratic congressional leaders promised a year ago. A USA Today-Gallup survey on the public's priorities for the new Congress listed "repealing health care law" one point behind cutting federal spending. In a Reuters-Ipsos poll on issues for Congress in 2011, 53 percent listed health care reform as "crucial" and 41 percent said it was "important." A pre-election Pew Research Center survey showed health care as the second-most-important issue to voters after the job situation. And a CBS News exit poll showed that 48 percent of those who voted said Obamacare should be repealed and just 16 percent thought it should be left alone.
Democrats who survived the red tide seem not to have heard this particular message from the voters. President Obama and reprieved Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid both said the law could be "tweaked," but they oppose any extensive reconstructive surgery. Mr. Obama oddly said he did not want to "relitigate" the issue, though the legal challenges to the law are just beginning. Future judicial rulings may eviscerate Obamacare and force the matter back to the legislature, but the new Congress should not wait for the courts to take action.
The most odious aspects of Obamacare are yet to hit. The law was crafted so that the harsh provisions would kick in after the election, a failed attempt to insulate Democrats from voter backlash. Obamacare is not only bad law, it is the symbol of a broken system. The legislation was slapped together hurriedly and without adequate staff - or lawmaker - review. It became a grab bag of regulations and loopholes favoring Democratic-leaning special interests. Republican suggestions for reform were never given a hearing, and the GOP was unceremoniously shut out of the process. The bill was forced through the Congress in a riot of arm-twisting and secretive backroom deals. Few if any members of Congress read the bill before they voted on it. The American people were denied the transparency and open process Mr. Obama had promised during his campaign. Obamacare was the poster child for everything wrong with the contemporary legislative process. It is the fruit of a poisoned tree.
Congress and the president need to start from scratch and craft a truly bipartisan health care reform bill. It should be the product of a genuinely deliberative and open process. Mr. Obama should not be afraid to put what he believes are the best aspects of his approach to health care to an honest vote. If they are as good as he thinks they are, they would be able to stand up to scrutiny. If not, they ought to be rejected. Agreeing to scrap the current flawed law would be a mark of good faith from the president, a signal that at long last he is willing to honor his promise of open, honest and ethical government. Mr. Obama avoided any meaningful bipartisan outreach in his first two years in office, but now bipartisanship has been thrust upon him. The coming health care reform debate will show how sincere his promises were. Simple tweaking won't cut it.
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