As President Obama prepares for his address before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, his critics, pundits and well-wishers await either to pounce, ponder or applaud.
There is a growing consensus among politicos–Democrats and Republicans–that the fate of the Obama administration rides on the speech.
Will Obama be able to summon once more his gifts of communication and make healthcare reform comprehensible to the American public and acceptable to those on the left and the right? Members of his team and his base insist that without a public option, a plan to counter private insurers and their soaring premiums, there’s no healthcare reform.
On the other hand, those on the right and the Republicans say no plan with a public option attached will make it through the Senate. And getting universal health-care has been the bane of presidents for over 75 years.
Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has hinted that his “gang of six” is on the verge of a compromise. The committee, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, holds the key to the overall Senate vote, and it’s hard to believe the Republicans, who have been so staunchly opposed to any public option, are willing to make any concession on this critical matter.
If Obama chooses to ram the public option plan through, he will appease his liberal base, but roil the opposition. Such action would be similar to the tactic used enacting the stimulus package. Obama wanted a bipartisan agreement, but failed to get any House Republicans to cross over, and only three Republican senators joined.
To get the public option of the healthcare plan to the American people, particularly the more than 45 million without any insurance, it may be necessary to force it through, utilizing a “budget reconciliation” process. Undoubtedly, this will infuriate the Republicans, but it would nullify the filibuster with an impetus on a 51-vote majority from the Senate.
There’s no absolute guarantee this procedure will work since there are several fiscal conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats who may vote against the tactic.
Now that Obama has painted himself into a corner, it seems nothing he says or does will change the minds of those who are adamantly opposed to his plans and policies. Even a speech on education to the nation’s school children has prompted a negative reaction from some educators. Is this merely the eruption of the simmering racism in the country–some of which has surfaced at the town hall meetings–or a miscalculation on the part of the Obama administration on trying to do too much, too fast?
Compromise seems the only way out of this cul-de-sac, and as Americans have learned over the years, compromise has never satisfied anyone. How Obama handles this complex problem may be the real test of his administration, though there remains a troubling issue of joblessness, a gradually recovering economy and the war in Afghanistan. So much is at stake as Obama tries to temper what appears to be an irreconcilable dislike from the right.
Moreover, there are the midterm elections in 2010. Obama will have to demonstrate he wants to succeed as a president with the same urgency and genius he expressed during his campaign.