Is President Obama rethinking his signature health care law? No, it’s not April Fool’s yet. But we are seeing a change in the White House strategy. More precisely, we are seeing, right before our eyes, triangulation at its most Clintonian. The headline on the front page of The Washington Post earlier read, “Obama offers states flexibility in health law.”
Flexibility--that’s the key word. Just as Bill Clinton was flexible enough to move to the middle in pursuit of re-election in 1996, so Barack Obama is showing newfound flexibility as he seeks re-election in 2012.
The flashpoint issue on Obamacare is the “individual mandate”--that is, the requirement that individuals hold health insurance. The argument in favor of a mandate is straightforward: If there’s not a mandate, then there’s not a pool large enough to sustain payments to those who get sick; after all, the money has to come from somewhere. And that’s why former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney enacted a mandate for the Bay State back in 2006.
But no matter: That argument has been drowned by the Tea Party wave. Most Americans believe that the mandate is an unconstitutional abridgment of freedom. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last month, some 67 percent of Americans oppose the mandate. Numbers so lopsided will get the attention of any politician running for re-election.
In fact, the president is reacting to pressure from Democrats who want the mandate monkey off their back as they eye their own future. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), for example, joined by Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), have spearheaded legislation that would allow individual states to seek “innovation waivers” on the implementation of the mandate. Of course, strong believers in federalism--that is, in the individual states as separate “laboratories of democracy”--would automatically think that DC had no business mandating such a thing in the first place, but for decades now, it’s been an article of liberal faith that Washington knows best.
And yet now Obama is isn’t just wavering on waivers for the states, he is waving them through. Speaking to the nation’s governors on Monday, he said of the Wyden-Landrieu-Brown legislation, “I support it.” And he added, perhaps thinking of those electoral swing states, “I will go to bat for whatever works, no matter who or where it comes from.” Purple states, red states--Obama loves ‘em all.
So is that that? Has Obama really changed? One skeptic is Hanns Kuttner, a health policy analyst at the Hudson Institute, who observes that there are plenty of policy gremlins in those thousands of pages of Obamacare regulations still to be written. “The President might just want to fall over the goal line,” Kuttner says, using a win-with-least-possible-effort football analogy. “Get the governors to go along, cool things down, buy time to work the details through, revisit and maybe rework the issues inside the bureaucracy in the outyears.” In other words, refight this fight behind closed doors.
Ah yes. But for that plan to work, the liberal-left does indeed need time. The President must be re-elected. That seems to be the White House’s prime objective, and most Democrats agree. So a few zigs and zags along the path to ultimate social justice are a small price to pay.
James P. Pinkerton is a writer, Fox News contributor and the editor/founder of SeriousMedicineStrategy.