Health Reform: A Political Mistake?

Premier political analyst Charlie Cook argues today that Obama made a serious error in plunging into health reform until the economy had fully recovered. He says that Obama should have focused like a laser beam on the economy pretty much to the exclusion of all else. If unemployment is still high in November, as it probably will be, Democrats will be very vulnerable to the charge that they took their eye off the ball to pursue a longheld ideological goal that may have been worthwhile but was not by any means time-sensitive. Given that expanding health coverage is an issue that has been kicking around for decades, would it really have mattered substantively if Obama had waited until 2011 or even 2013 to push it?

Of course, the obvious political response is that health reform had to be done when Democrats had historically large majorities in the House and Senate or it would have been impossible to overcome Republican opposition. Given the almost certainty that Democrats will lose net seats in both the House and Senate this fall, that argument looks unassailable. But if Democrats hadn’t spent so much time on health reform, which has weak public support according to a number of polls, perhaps their political prospects this fall would be better.

I suppose that right-wingers will argue that any electoral setback Democrats suffer this year will be just one step backwards on the road to socialism, while the expansion of government resulting from health reform will mean two steps forward. More likely, Republicans will discover that Obama’s reforms are actually pretty modest and don’t change the health care system nearly as much as they thought would be the case. Given that they have lately positioned themselves as the die-hard defenders of Medicare, which Republicans also said would lead to socialism, they may eventually conclude that health reform was really their idea all along.


The sharp-as-a-tack Dave Weigel notes that Democrats have only had 60 votes in the Senate for four months.

About Bruce Bartlett 76 Articles

Affiliation: Forbes

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist for, the online side of Forbes, the nation’s premier financial magazine.

He served for many years in prominent governmental positions including executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush Administration, and as a senior policy analyst in the White House for Ronald Reagan.

Bruce is the author of seven books, including the New York Times best-selling Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, and thousands of articles in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Fortune and many others. He appears frequently on CNN, CNBC, C-SPAN and Fox News, and has been a guest on both the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report.

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