The Right Prescription

Dr. Daschle

Or why we should stop worrying and love ObamaCare.

By 10.14.10

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We have nothing to fear from ObamaCare.

According to Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader and one-time nominee to be the administration's health care guru, those who are afraid of the beneficent new law are simply falling for "scare tactics."

"Most Americans are happy with their health care, even if they are sympathetic to other people's problems," Daschle writes in his new book, Getting It Done: How Obama and Congress Finally Broke the Stalemate to Make Way for Health Care Reform. "So when reform opponents try to tell them that reform might ruin what they like about their health care, the scare tactics often succeed."

Daschle later reminds us that people "are vulnerable to scare tactics" and that there have been "a lot of scare tactics about how much power the IRS will have" and that right now, "Many Republicans are doing everything they can to stoke the public's fears about the law…"

Instead of falling victim to these tactics, now's the time for everybody to embrace the new law, because it "will have the best chance of success if the country accepts it."

He writes that, "as patients, all of us can help by accepting our new responsibilities…" and while the states may see their "new responsibilities" as a burden, "For their own good, as well as the good of millions of Americans, they should see it as an opportunity."

Originally appointed to serve a dual role as Obama's top advisor on health care as well as the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Daschle was forced to withdraw his nomination after it surfaced that he failed to report free chauffeur services on his tax returns. But he still provided help to Democrats from the outside throughout the health care debate, advising Obama, sitting in on strategy meetings, and even lobbying members of Congress when asked, including Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.

Given his intimate knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes throughout the health care debate, Daschle was in a position of writing an interesting book. Instead, most of its pages rehash what we already know about the events of the past several years, from Obama's bitter disagreements with Hillary Clinton over the individual mandate during the Democratic primaries through Bart Stupak's decision to give in on abortion funding in the final hours, paving the way for passage of the new law.

The book also serves as a defense -- not only of every aspect of the new law, and the process that led to its passage -- but of himself. In an attempt to rehabilitate his image, Daschle explains his tax issues as an honest mistake, and his withdrawal as a noble sacrifice because he didn't want to distract from the health care push. He opens the book by recounting how around this time, he had just found out his brother had a brain tumor.

AS DASCHLE TELLS IT, at every stage of the health care push, Obama was confronted by advisors who were telling him to put off or scale back the health care effort. Just after he won the election, the Obama economic team led by Larry Summers had questioned whether a health care push in the middle of the economic crisis was "more than the nation could handle." At times, even Vice President Joe Biden and senior advisor David Axelrod expressed doubts about the wisdom of prioritizing health care. But from the beginning, Obama assured Daschle that it would be the defining issue of his presidency.

"Tom, health care is the most important thing we will ever do," Obama told Daschle days into his presidency. "It will be my legacy. And it is more important to me now than ever before. Don't ever doubt that."

Early on, the Obama team decided on a strategy aimed at avoiding the problems that doomed President Clinton's health care effort in 1993 and 1994. In addition to allowing Congress to write the bill, the White House was determined to pass a bill as quickly as possible "so opponents wouldn't have time to tear the bill apart."

Daschle describes in heroic terms how Democrats rammed through health care legislation in the face of overwhelming public opposition, even convincing themselves that the hostility toward the law was overblown. After the August 2009 recess, during which opponents of the health care legislation voiced their concerns at town halls, House Democrats had a meeting to discuss the where things stood. Daschle writes:

Leonard Boswell of Iowa stood up and told his colleagues that if the events taught him anything, it was that they had to pass the health care bill. Others quickly echoed him. They had all seen the protesters, but many came to see the demonstrations for what they were: a made-for-reality-TV-spectacle. When they talked to the "regulars" -- the constituents they knew, the ones who always come to the town hall meetings, they heard a different message. You have the best opportunity in generations to solve the serious problems we're all having, these constituents said. Don't miss the chance.

After Scott Brown won an upset victory to take the Senate seat once held by Ted Kennedy, giving Republicans 41 votes, Obama decided to charge ahead on a massive overhaul anyway. This decision came over the objections of chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who argued for a scaled-back approach. In contrast to Emanuel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Obama that she was "only a player on comprehensive health care reform" and that "anything less is not an option."

Daschle defends everything that made passage of the legislation possible, from the use of reconciliation to ram the final bill through Congress and the special deals such as the "Cornhusker kickback," which gave Nebraska extra Medicaid money to win over Sen. Ben Nelson's vote. 

"None of these deals were pleasant to look at," Daschle writes. "But in the pursuit of a higher goal -- health care for millions of Americans -- they were a price that had to be paid."

THROUGHOUT THE BOOK, Daschle scoffs at charges that ObamaCare will lead to a government takeover of health care, and yet in all of the policy sections of the book, he eschews markets in favor of central planning. He also argues that health care reform will be an "ongoing process" with further government interventions down the road.

"Even under the new law, we will have a health care market, with generous and high-quality care for the luckiest Americans and lesser care for everyone else," Daschle writes. "Instead of a market, we could have a smoothly functioning system, with a central decision-making authority for coverage and payment decisions."

In the coming years, he notes, HHS will have "a heavy load of responsibilities" to implement the law and fill in details left open in the legislation. Among the questions HHS will have to answer, he writes, is "How strict should we be in limiting health plans' profits?"

If too many people are choosing to pay the mandate tax penalty rather than purchase insurance and too many businesses are dropping coverage and dumping employees on the exchanges, Daschle argues that Congress will have to pass tougher penalties. He also sees the public option as "inevitable" and hopes that the law will be updated to cover illegal immigrants.

For all his triumphalism, though, one can sense some nervousness over the fierce backlash against the legislation.

While describing what happened in the August 2009 town hall meetings, Daschle laments that, "somehow, the energy and excitement on the pro-reform side seemed to have been lost." And in his conclusion, he ominously reports on the drive for repeal, as well as the lawsuits launched by states challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

"Even though the odds are against both efforts, they can still do real damage to the cause of reform," Daschle writes. "By constantly suggesting to the public that the law is illegitimate, they could encourage large groups of Americans to give up on the law, or even fight it, before it has had a chance to prove itself."

He continues, "The biggest threat to the cause of reform is no longer the decades of deadlock in Congress…Now, the danger is that the critics of reform will kill it before it ever has a chance to take hold."

For opponents of reform, his warnings should be taken as marching orders.

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About the Author

Philip Klein is The American Spectator's Washington correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/Philipaklein