A Way Out for Obama

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Right-wing critics howl that using reconciliation to pass sweeping policy changes like health care is an abuse of power — the tactic, they say, is supposed to be limited to spending measures — but they're full of shit. Newt Gingrich used it to pass the Contract With America in the mid-1990s, and Tom DeLay used it to pass the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. And here's the good news: The only way to use reconciliation for health care is to get the House to sign off on the process. That means the White House, which pre-Massachusetts and pre-Scott Brown had planned to toss aside the far more progressive House bill and pass the horseshit Senate version packed with industry giveaways, now needs the votes of reform-minded congressmen like Dennis Kucinich to get health care passed. The good guys, in other words, have regained some leverage, giving them a chance to bargain for significant improvements to the shitty Senate bill. "A reconciliation bill would almost automatically be better than what we had," the Senate aide concedes.

Among the big-ticket changes being discussed are more "affordability credits" to help the poor pay for health insurance, reducing or eliminating drug co-pays for people on Medicare, and scaling back the proposed tax on high-cost plans enjoyed by union workers. There's even a very, very faint hope that a public option could be pushed through — although that would require 27 more Democrats in the Senate to grow DeLay/Gingrich-esque spleens in the next few weeks.

And therein lies the larger issue at stake. Democrats and Republicans are basically the same on a lot of issues: They both voted for the Iraq War, they both love pork and useless weapons programs, they both lift their skirts for Wall Street. But they have one major stylistic difference: Republicans are unafraid to exercise power, while Democrats try to run government like one of those pansy-ass T-ball leagues, where every kid gets to have a hit, nobody loses, and nobody has to go home with an ouchie or hurt feelings.

Well, T-ball is over. If Obama wants to pass any kind of reform — even one as riddled with industry giveaways as the current measure — he is finally going to have to take a swing in anger. If he doesn't, it may well mark the moment when our government conceded that it can never force any powerful industry to accept any kind of change, no matter how minimal. If the Democrats fuck that up, they're going to leave us living in a hell of a world for the next generation or so. Let's hope they grow some guts before it's too late.

{From Issue 1100 — March 18, 2010]

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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.