I wrote a piece for Fox News this morning listing some reasons why Barack Obama is making something of a comeback. Here's one of the reasons--dueling visions of healthcare policy, specifically, the statism of Obama vs. the libertarianism of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.).
We know that the American people don't like Obamacare, but will they will like Ryancare any better? Or will it seem even worse to them? We'll know a lot more on the 25th, when this debate goes live on national TV:
. . . The fourth factor is something that Obama had nothing to do with. It was the decision of a leading House Republican, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, to release a strongly conservative budget plan, calling for deep cuts in spending, including the partial privatization of Social Security and the voucherization of Medicare. Maybe we need those deep cuts in spending, but for sure, those cuts are not popular with middle-of-the-road voters.
Congressional Democrats, seeing their own chance to get back on offense, immediately pounced on the Ryan plan, even thought it was not an official product of the House Republican leadership. As of Friday, the Democratic leadership, smelling political blood, was scheming to force a House vote on Ryan’s proposal. That would be a tough vote for most Republicans: Do they side with Ryan and the limited-government tea-partiers? Or with senior citizens and centrists?
Republicans with long memories will recall that the GOP has been down this particular road before. Back in 1995, another bunch of Republican insurgents had much the same idea: Cut Medicare. And another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, picked a fight with the GOP--and won. So now, with Ryan, are Republicans repeating that unhappy history? Most Republicans on Capitol Hill are looking forward to whacking Democrats this year; they are not looking forward to whacking popular programs for the elderly.
So now, in two-and-a-half weeks, comes Obama’s health care meeting with Congress. Obamacare has cratered, in the wake of the Scott Brown special election, and thus the White House must figure out what to do next. There’s no way to know what will happen at that session, of course, but it’s a safe bet that there won’t be much actual negotiating on February 25. Yes, we are finally getting those C-SPAN negotiating sessions that the candidate promised during the 2008 campaign--and we will soon discover why the proposal was half-baked when Obama first cooked it up.
But here’s another bet: Obama will do just fine later this month. As he did during the State of the Union, he will remind Republicans that since they won that 41st vote in the Senate, they, too, share the power. So, Obama will surely say, Republicans have a duty to step up and contribute to the solution.
The Republicans are free to say “no,” of course. They can even say “hell, no” if they want to--although if they come across as too partisan and belligerent, they will look bad to “purple” voters. And if the Loyal Opposition is really lucky, it will get a chance to put forth a few of its own health are ideas. But make no mistake: Obama will have the home-field advantage. He will set the agenda, and he will get the last word. After all, it’s his bully pulpit.