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Shields and Brooks on Kennedy and Health Care Reform

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - August 28, 2009

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, to the analysis of Shields and Brooks.

Judy Woodruff is with them tonight.

JUDY WOODRUFF: That's, of course, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Good to see you both.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, let's start out with health care.

David, we're a week away from Congress coming back from the August recess. Where does this big battle stand, and especially now that Ted Kennedy is gone?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, it's still not good, if you are looking for passage.

If you look at the president's approval rating, they were up at 70 a couple months ago. Now they have -- a steady decline down to about 50, around there. If you look at public view of the health care plan, specifically, it's a slight majority against, but that seems to be pretty hard.

So, what I would expect the administration to do is to do two things: one, actually come out with their own plan, try to relaunch this with their own plan; and, second, do something dramatic, maybe have a joint session of Congress speech, something like that, to really relaunch the debate, because, the way it is going now, I don't think there is a member of Congress who is moderate or leaning who has leaned in favor in the last couple of months.

And a number and many have been sort of leaned a little against.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that how you are reading it, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Sadly, I agree with David on -- on most of what he said.

Judy, it's not a question of messaging. The president is an effective messenger. People like Barack Obama as president. They want him to succeed. Bill McInturff, the Republican pollster, John McCain's pollster, made that point to me as recently as yesterday.

But the problem is, I think, the content. I really do. And I -- I think, whether you call it relaunching, rebranding, whatever, they have got to come out with what they want.

There are -- interestingly enough, consensus is emerging. As -- as others have pointed out as well, I mean, there is an agreement that there wasn't 15 years ago about insurance companies; that they cannot deny coverage because of a preexisting condition; that they can't take away coverage when somebody gets sick; that they want to remove the limits on lifetime benefits received.

But insurance companies, legitimately and understandably, are saying, look, if all the reform is going to be us, you know, what's to prevent anybody from just saying, I will wait until I get sick before I buy health insurance?

So, you know, I think there's consensus that is emerging that you could do -- but that has nothing to do with the costs and controlling the costs over the long run, or -- and not a heck of a lot to do with extended coverage.

But I think there's an emerging consensus as well about providing subsidies for people to get health insurance who can't afford it, to small businesses to provide it who can't afford it. So, I think that there is a consensus. And this is where Ted Kennedy is so dearly and acutely missed...

JUDY WOODRUFF: But...

MARK SHIELDS: ... because he could seize that kind of an opening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, if there is an opening, if there are these emerging consensuses, David, then why is it so hard to do this?

First, the country is nervous about the whole government changing, getting too big. It comes in the wake of the takeover of AIG, the takeover of the car companies, radical expansion of government and other things. So, people are just extremely anxious.

Then, secondly, there's -- people are afraid of cutting benefits. They're going to cut Medicare by $500 billion. They want to cut it in ways that won't hurt health care costs. People are a little dubious.

And then there is the matter of costs Mark eluded to. Barack Obama started this as a cost-control measure. There's no real serious cost control in there. In some ways, he tried to be political smart. And the smart thing was, you can't take away people's existing health care.

And that was politically intelligent. The problem is, if you are going to preserve that much of the current system, you're to the going to be able to control costs.

There was another option sitting out there, this thing called the Wyden-Bennett plan, which had bipartisan support, but would have really altered people's health care to give people more consumer -- consumer choice.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Take away employer plans.

DAVID BROOKS: Take away the employer tax credit...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: ... and give people a subsidy.

But that really would have shook up the system. And they decided that was too politically difficult. They didn't want something that radical. But, by keeping so much of the current plan, they haven't solved a lot of the current problems -- the current system's problems.

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