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Health Care Reform is Critically Important, But Getting Americans Back to Work is More So

Monday, November 02, 2009

By Robert Reich
Robert Reich's Blog

Presidents tend to overcompensate for the errors of their predecessors in the same party and in so doing sow seeds of their own mistakes. Bill Clinton wanted above all to avoid Jimmy Carter's fate -- losing re-election because the economy was heading south on Election Day. So Clinton made a deal with Alan Greenspan to slash the budget deficit and thereby jettison much of his ambitious campaign agenda (that was Greenspan's precondition for lowering interest rates and causing an economic boom in time for the re-election) and then Clinton took direction from Dick Morris, who told him to move to the right. The result: Clinton avoided Carter's failure and won re-election handily. But the Clinton years produced few if any major social reforms. Clinton spent so much of his initial political capital, as well as his time and energy, on deficit reduction that he didn't have enough left to enact health care in 1994.

Barack Obama came to the White House intent on not repeating Clinton's failure to enact universal health care. Did he overlearn the Clinton lesson? Obama seems to have made all the right moves to enact something he can credibly label health-care reform: Rather than spend his political capital elsewhere, he reserved most of it for health care.

I sincerely hope America gets genuine health reform and I hope it's stronger than what's emerging in the Senate. (Whoever voted for Joe Lieberman last time around ought to pray for continued good health.) I worry, though, that Obama's strategy may turn out to be a mistake comparable to Clinton's overemphasis on deficit reduction. Obama's focus on health care rather than jobs, when the economy is still so fragile and unemployment moving toward double digits, could make it appear that the administration has its priorities confused. While affordable health care is critically important to Americans, making a living is more urgent. Yet the administration's efforts to date on this more basic concern have been neither particularly visible nor coherent....(Remainder.)

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