As the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare looms, the speculation and second-guessing is rife. I find most of it irrelevant and irresistible. The “what ifs” concentrate on two questions: What will happenpolitically and substantively if the law is overturned, and what did the Obama camp do wrong in its legal strategy? There are a variety of good summaries that try to answer these questions, and I’m not sure I have much to add to them. Instead, I have another Monday morning quarterback question: Why did Obama take on massive health-care reform in the first place?
In December 2008, about a month after Obama’s election, I told a few of my politically-oriented friends I thought Obama should cancel all the usual inaugural froo-froo — the balls, the parade, the corporate sponsors — as a signal to the country that there was only one priority for his presidency: resolving the economic crisis. Of course, the president did spend his first 100 days on the financial crisis and stimulus bills, but the actions — which have turned out to be inadequate — were presented as resolutions of the economic crisis as opposed to first steps. Instead of really explaining the depth of the financial, fiscal and economic problems facing the country and warning that further steps would be necessary, Obama created the expectation that he had solved them, or at least done all he could to solve them.
This is the original sin of the Obama Administration — the failure to make the economic recovery its one and only priority. Why couldn’t the administration have proposed that until unemployment had fallen for 12 straight months or until it had created 8 million new jobs, it would only propose initiatives that served the goal of job growth? Instead, the president immediately embarked on comprehensive health-care reform, the same reef that had battered and almost sunk Bill Clinton. Initially, the president tried selling his legislation as important for job creation, arguing, correctly, that health-care costs impact businesses’ ability to add workers. But this was a relatively obscure and tortured argument in a great recession given the fact that businesses had bigger barriers to hiring workers than health-care costs.
But the president pushed on, and as he did, the economy sputtered and stalled again, but he had already spent all of his considerable political capital so he could do nothing about it. In the end, he got his law, but it may just cost him his presidency no matter what the Supreme Court rules this week.