Why Big Health Insurance Supported Obamacare, Part I
When President Obama moved into the White House in January of 2009, he found in the Oval Office a bust of Sir Winston Churchill, a gift from Great Britain to the United States during the Reagan presidency, a gift meant to symbolize the close ties between our two nations. The new President quickly decided he did not want to look at it. And, as one of the first acts of his presidency (before advancing his Stimulus Package, or pushing healthcare reform, or even inviting Andy Stern to dinner), he had that bust placed into a crate, packed with sawdust, and shipped by the afternoon mail right back to England.
DrRich can think of several reasons why it might have been a better idea, instead of beginning his reign with a completely gratuitous insult to America’s longest and best and most-needed ally, for President Obama to quietly have had the bust moved to the White House basement, where Sir Winston could have spent the next four to eight years contemplating all those other now-obsolete or embarrassing diplomatic trinkets, such as the gold plate from the Shah of Iran, and the fine old portrait of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
And here’s one of them.
Despite the fact that President Obama was elected by a wide margin, and that he brought with him a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a large majority in the House, and that he had loyal, powerful and dogged leaders in each chamber of Congress who completely supported his agenda, and that the major American media was largely behind him all the way, the passage of the Obamacare legislation was very hard-fought, and a very close thing. Its ultimate passage was a major victory for the President, and a great tribute to his persistence. In fact, DrRich believes that President Obama has not received nearly enough credit for the utter doggedness and persistence he displayed in the face of the terrible headwinds he sometimes encountered while passing his healthcare reform agenda.
Indeed, during this arduous process, he was almost Churchillian in his steadfastness.
So, had he kept it, President Obama might now gaze upon bust of Churchill and see not the man who had campaigned against people of color in order to keep the British Empire together, but rather, a man who, not unlike himself, had almost single-handedly saved western civilization from the forces of evil.
But there is another striking similarity between these two men, aside from the remarkable singlemindedness they displayed under pressure, which is: neither of them could have succeeded alone. Their iron will, their persistence, their personal courage, and their (too often weak-kneed) support from political allies would not have carried the day, had it not been for the assistance of a powerful, if silent, partner.
In 1940-41, when Winston Churchill stood virtually alone against the Nazi onslaught, and with dwindling resources and a badly beaten military tried to face down a powerful enemy, he utterly relied on the support – often tacit, rarely public, only occasionally material, but always firm and unwavering – of Franklin Roosevelt. And no matter how bleak things looked, Churchill always believed that, one way or another, in the end President Roosevelt and the great might of the United States would provide a way to final victory.
Similarly, when the President’s initially smooth path to healthcare reform was suddenly interrupted by a blitzkrieg of contentious town hall meetings, followed closely by the formation of the vociferously anti-Obamacare Tea Party movement, followed next by the surprising victory of Chris Christie for the governorship of New Jersey, and capped by the stunning ascension of Scott Brown to the Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy, an event that appeared to leave the prospects for healthcare reform so bleak that a week later the issue was barely raised in the State of the Union address, and that caused even the sympathetic press and some of his fellow Democrats to declare the prospects for healthcare reform to be dead, President Obama had to reach deep within himself to find the resolve for one last push. And in that dark moment he, too, was able to draw courage from the tacit, rarely public, only occasionally material, but strong and unwavering support of his own silent partner.
That silent partner, of course, was the American health insurance industry.
And as was the case with Sir Winston, in the moment of greatest crisis President Obama’s own silent partner threw itself into the fight with great abandon, and ultimately enabled a final victory.
Why the health insurance industry supported Obamacare, and how it did so, should be of more than mere casual interest to Americans. It has major implications for anyone who favors repealing Obamacare or major parts of it, or de-funding it, or declaring it unconstitutional. Anyone who is approaching the 2010 mid-term elections thinking that we can just get rid of Obamacare and go back to the way things were – or even to a substantial modification of the way things were – had better understand what just happened.
So in his next few posts, DrRich will examine the role that the American health insurance industry played in the passage of Obamacare, and what the recent behavior of that industry implies as we decide what we should – and can – do next.
Why Big Health Insurance Supported Obamacare
DrRich explains it all in, Fixing American Healthcare – Wonkonians, Gekkonians and the Grand Unification Theory of Healthcare.