David Broder has become a pinata of sorts for the blogosphere--a symbol, to many of my peers, of everything that is wrong with Beltway journalism. But I've always been inclined to cut him more slack, mostly out of respect for his work ethic. Say what you will about the man, but there he is, every campaign season, taking the time to interview actual voters and report back on what they feel. That's a rare thing among political columnists.
I also respect Broder for his book on the 1993-94 fight over the Clinton heatlh care plan: The System, which he co-wrote with Haynes Johnson. For a comprehensive tick-tock of what happened when, you can't do better. It's long and, yes, a bit tedious in places. But it's an invaluable resource, even now.
Still, today I was among those exasperated by Broder. The occasion was his Washington Post column about the end of President Obama's honeymoon. The overall point of the article is that Obama's critics have found their voice--and that, going forward, Obama will have a tougher time politically. That's sensible enough. But then there's Broder's discussoin of health care:
Where Bill and Hillary Clinton formulated a highly detailed health reform plan in secret and presented it to Congress as a fait accompli, Obama held a televised, all-hands town hall at the White House to kick around ideas on health care and told Congress: Work on it for a while and let me know what you come up with.
That buys him some time, which is useful since two of his key health aides, Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy-Ann DeParle, aren't even in their jobs yet. But expecting Congress to come up on its own with a plan for restructuring one-sixth of the national economy is expecting the impossible.
If Obama's direction to Congress on health care was really that vague then, yes, we'd have a problem. But that's hardly what Obama has done. When Obama put forward his budget summary proposal last month, he included the basic principles of what a health care reform plan must do. And while those principles were pretty hazy, it's no great secret what has in mind. He would like to see Congress something simliar to the plan he used in his presidential campaign--which, of course, is almost the exact same plan that the Democratic leaders in Congress already have in mind.
Now, there are a few key controversies to be settled. Should the government require everybody to get insurance? Should it change the tax treatment of health benefits, in order to raise money for making coverage universal?
During the campaign, Obama said "no" to both. But key Congressional figures like Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus have indicated they think "yes." It's an open secret that Obama wouldn't really mind if Congress took either of these steps, as long as it produces a plan that remains true to his goals of making coverage available to all while reducing the cost of medical care overall, at least over the long run.
By leaving it to Congress to settle these controversies, Obama gives Congress the room to make those moves--which, I would argue, makes enactment of a reform package more likely, not less.