Obama Has to Act Quickly, the Health Care Clock is Ticking

Universal health insurance won’t happen unless Obama can light a fire under the Senate Finance Committee this week. Within the next two weeks, the Committee must report out a bill that contains a public option and a credible source of money (either limiting deductions of the wealthy to 28 percent or capping tax-free employer-provided health care, or some of both). Obama then has to get both the Senate and the House (which reports out a bill today) to approve their respective bills before August 7, when Congress heads home for recess.

Why is timing so important? Because the health-care clock is ticking, and doesn’t have many weeks left. Universal health care is so complicated — touching on so much of the economy, stepping on the toes of so many vested interests — that to allow the bills to languish past recess risks the entire goal. Speed is essential. Recall that after Bill Clinton was elected, universal health insurance looked inevitable; a year later, it was doomed. As Lyndon Johnson warned his staff after the 1964 landslide, “every day while I’m in office, I’m gonna lose votes.”

Republicans don’t want any bill. Blue Dog Democrats are afraid of the costs of any bill. The AMA, private insurers, and pharmaceutical companies would be delighted if universal health care died. If bills aren’t passed in the House and Senate before August 7th, the fights in both chambers over the public option and money will carry over into the Fall, where they’ll become more intense and more prolonged. Obama won’t have a bill on his desk before the end of the year. That’s a death sentence for health-care reform. The gravitational pull of the mid-term elections of 2010 will frighten off Blue Dogs and delight Republicans.

About Robert Reich 545 Articles

Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

He has served as labor secretary in the Clinton administration, as an assistant to the solicitor general in the Ford administration and as head of the Federal Trade Commission's policy planning staff during the Carter administration.

He has written eleven books, including The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine. His weekly commentaries on public radio’s "Marketplace" are heard by nearly five million people.

In 2003, Mr. Reich was awarded the prestigious Vaclev Havel Foundation Prize, by the former Czech president, for his pioneering work in economic and social thought. In 2005, his play, Public Exposure, broke box office records at its world premiere on Cape Cod.

Mr. Reich has been a member of the faculties of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and of Brandeis University. He received his B.A. from Dartmouth College, his M.A. from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.

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