President Obama has argued recently that the failure of Congress to pass the Democrats’ health care bill is a sign that our legislative process no longer works. Alluding to the legislation during a campaign event in Denver, the president complained about a “broken” system, accused those who disagree with him of trying to “gum up the works,” and claimed that the Senate “doesn’t get anything done” because Republicans “say no to everything.”
While it’s easy to blame the opposition party, the fact is, until recently, the president’s party maintained a supermajority of votes in the Senate and House and could have passed a bill if it could count on the votes of all of its own members. But even some Democrats didn’t agree with the president’s plan. Perhaps they were listening to public opinion.
Congress has been debating health care reform for a year, and Americans have had time to hear all sides of the issue. They have said every way they can that they don’t like what the president has proposed.
Massachusetts voters expressed their rejection of the legislation when they elected Scott Brown, who pledged to help block its passage. Other Americans called their representatives or went to town hall meetings or tea parties to make their disapproval clear. Indeed, the most recent CNN poll shows that 73 percent of Americans oppose the Democrats’ approach to health care reform — only 25 percent support it.
As columnist Charles Krauthammer recently observed, the reaction to health care reform is “a textbook example of popular will expressing itself.”
A central reason President Obama has not persuaded people is that the bill’s chief promise, of better and more health care for less money, is simply implausible.
Another reason is because it’s so partisan. Written behind closed doors, it does not take “the best ideas” from each party, as President Obama said it would, nor does it represent what most Americans want from health care reform. Rather, it represents what the left wing of the Democrat party wants, which is a government takeover of health care.
That’s not the foundation for successful reform. In recent American history, major pieces of economic- and social-reform legislation passed by Congress have been bipartisan bills that enjoyed the broad support of the American people.
In 1986, for example, President Reagan collaborated with congressional leaders in both parties to produce a historic tax reform bill that lowered marginal rates, simplified the tax code, and made it more efficient.
A decade later, President Clinton worked with both sides to fix a broken welfare system. We delivered a remarkably successful reform that helped reduce child poverty and strengthen families.
President George W. Bush guided No Child Left Behind and the Medicare Modernization Act through Congress, with support from both parties.
Legislation can move more smoothly through the Congress when it is bipartisan and has widespread public support, since government draws its power from the people, or, as the Declaration of Independence puts it, from “the consent of the governed.”
If President Obama had followed these examples of bipartisanship it’s possible he would have a health care bill to sign into law by now, albeit one much less ambitious than his proposal.
And while the recent White House health care summit may have suggested some commonality, Democrats are working behind the scenes on a last-ditch effort to jam their legislation through using a controversial procedural shortcut called reconciliation. Even though its inventor, U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said such use of the process would be an “outrage.”
Health care reform can’t pass under the traditional rules because most Americans do not accept it. They know it is partisan and fundamentally flawed, and would burden them with higher taxes and premiums, Medicare cuts, and, ultimately, the rationing of care. Short-circuiting the legislative process and blaming Republicans won’t change that.