A Way Out for Obama

The president faces his biggest test yet on health care reform — and he's got one last shot at making it work

March 3, 2010 5:24 PM ET

In the end, here's what the history of this attempt to reform health care comes down to: Barack Obama did everything wrong. Instead of using his vast post-electoral capital with the public to push for real reform and clean the Augean stables of the health care industry, he and his team of two-faced creeps like Rahm Emanuel took the Beltway-schmuck route and cut a backroom deal with the targeted industries — buying their acquiescence to a theoretical future of regulatory oversight in exchange for an upfront mountain of taxpayer giveaways.

The Obama administration was willing to sell out every inch of the body politic to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, and all it wanted in return was a single ten-dollar bill left on the night table to pay for the next day's dragon bag — a teeny-weeny token, some itty-bitty thing it could call health care reform, like a prohibition on rejecting people with pre-existing conditions. But despite prostituting itself to every industry bagman in the District of Columbia, the White House wound up getting nothing in exchange for its trouble but a congressional ass-kicking by the Republican minority.

As much as Obamacare sucks, though, the alternative is even worse. For one thing, the defeat of Obama's health care initiative would set a decisive precedent: that even a transcendently popular new president armed with a congressional supermonopoly is forbidden to so much as put a regulatory finger on an organized, politically connected industry. For another thing, Obama's pukish bungling of health care may achieve what previously seemed impossible: exhuming the syphilitic corpse of George W. Bush's Republican Party, and, shit, who knows, maybe eight years of President Sarah Palin.

There's only one way all this turns out well — and fortunately, there's a decent chance it might actually be happening. Having spent a whole year approaching health care as a corrupt, watered-down, backroom deal, Obama sent a clear signal at his health care summit on February 25th that he's finally ready to dispense with the bipartisan fantasy and pass the bill with a simple majority. It involves using a filibuster-proof budgetary procedure called "reconciliation," which requires only 51 votes — and it could produce a health care bill that would not completely and totally suck. "It's the only way," says one Senate aide.

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.