Priorities for President Obama

by: Matt Stoller

Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 14:05

Mike Lux, a veteran of the Clinton health care wars, pointed out today that Obama is using as a surrogate on health care Bush Dog Democrat Jim Cooper.  Cooper spent a good amount of time in 1993-1994 working to undermine Clinton's health care plan by offering more insurance friendly proposals with former Senator and current lobbyist John Breaux.  Breaux, an architect of Bush's tax cuts as a Democratic Senator, was the only Democrat on the comp list at Jack Abramoff's restaurant, Signatures.  That Obama is using Cooper as a surrogate means that he is sending a signal to Capitol Hill and the business community that he will take their concerns into account when formulating his plan, and that he's not going to repeat Clinton's experience in 1993-1994.  It could be a really bad sign, but it might actually be the right strategy on health care, considering the enormous amount of organizing being done outside of the Presidential contest - let health care reform come to the President, rather than driving it from the White House.  The next President is going to be whacked with a series of economic and foreign policy crises, and I'm not sure where health care fits in.

So I'm left wondering and reading the tea leaves about what his priorities might be as President.  If I had to guess, I'd pick global warming.

Obama said he would not wait until January 2009, when the new president takes office, to get started.

"The moment I secure the nomination, I want to bring together experts in this area to start putting together the U.S. position ... what we're going to be doing internally, what we can agree to with other countries," he said.

There's been a huge amount of youth organizing around global warming, so this problem fits into Obama's overall demographic base.  It's also something of a creative class originated issue, coming first from the scientific/academic world and now being driven into the mainstream by scientists and young people.  Health care as an issue, by contrast, was the one piece of the New Deal that FDR never completed.

Obama as President will probably be driven a lot more by outside organizing pressure than Clinton or McCain, so his priorities are somewhat up for grabs.  If I had to guess, I'd say he's probably going to move quickly on climate change, media reform, corruption, energy, and transparency in government.  

On economics and foreign policy, I'm less sure, since there's been less organizing around those two topics.  

And on health care, Obama is giving signal that it is not an issue of much personal interest, but SEIU, the AMA, and the AFL-CIO are putting enormous resources into organizing around it, so it might just be unavoidable.

Matt Stoller :: Priorities for President Obama

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I take it as a bad sign. No Democrat running for president will ever have (4.00 / 1)
my support unless they make UHC a priority.  NOT getting caught up with foreign bullshit.  That's always an excuse presidents use, as if they cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.  Fuck that.  FDR did both, LBJ did both, and even a guy by the name of Lincoln did.  And isn't that the bearded fella that BHO is often compared to?

For some reason, it seems that Obama has some pathological and deep-seated psychological need for Republicans to like him.  Seriously.  It's weird.

Health policy is very complex (4.00 / 1)
It isn't exactly Matt's point, but everyonbe involved seriously with the issue says that it is an extremely complex and difficult issue.  It isn't just a matter of "wanting" universal health care, it's getting from here to there, and the details are very, very complex.

Thus, it is precisely the kind of issue that a new President should NOT make his personal favorite issue and top priority.  If he does, he will get mired in the details and the tradeoffs and it will swallow him.  (There was a reason Bill gave it to Hillary back when.)  

Instead he should give some general outlines (like cover the maximum number of people for a reasonable amount of federal money and make it simpler) and let Congress wrestle with it though hearings and the committee process, maybe with conferences and workshops for public involvement.  He should make ultimate decisions when presented with policy choices, at least to some extent, and crack heads with the special interests when needed, but this is an area where it should not be "his" plan but a national plan.

Instead, he should use his charisma to move the public on climate change, an issue where there needs to be much more of a change in mind set, where leadership will really matter.  And he needs to be ready to extricate us from Iraq and be ready for foreign challenges.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
this may sound cold and cruel to some, but I'd trade Iraq for UHC any day (0.00 / 0)
of the week.  The lack of care kills far more people.  But that's just me.  I do understand those that make Iraq their number one issue.  But UHC is my number one issue.

For some reason, it seems that Obama has some pathological and deep-seated psychological need for Republicans to like him.  Seriously.  It's weird.

[ Parent ]
Your are buying in to the "how complex and difficult (0.00 / 0)
it would be to have a national health care plan" meme.   This is an organized effort of organized business against disorganized Americans.  

If given the correct information without the media and hacks like Jim Cooper and John Breaux and the many relentlessly mediocre people attracted to politics trying to put roadblocks up, a national health care plan is pretty damn easy to understand and get implemented.

With the bully pulpit of the presidency it can get done. That's why John Edwards said that he would be the lobbyist for the people against this organized bunch of crooks.   FDR did it with social security and Truman tried  to get health care but was blocked by the blue dogs who didn't want black folk in the same hospitals as the white folks. (I hope we've solved that part, at least partially).

God, having a president that "gives general outlines" sounds like we want a lecturer instead of a warrior as president.  Oh wait, that's right.  A bunch of folks decided by flooding the caucuses in Iowa that they wanted the teacher instead of the warrior.  

And sitting around in committees talking about it while people are dying?   This is all so sad and small.

[ Parent ]
Universal Health Care Has To Be A Top Priority (4.00 / 1)
   Since our broken health care system affects so many people's lives, I don't see how he can avoid making progress toward universal care a top priority.  My hope is that he is including people like Jim Cooper because, in the colorful words of LBJ, he'd rather have him "in the tent p---ing out than outside the tent p---ing in."  Obama has promised in speech after speech that he will deliver universal health care by the end of his first term.  If he's elected and not there, or close to it, in four years, I think everyone who supported him should make life as uncomfortable as possible for him.  Health care and education ties in neatly to a guns vs. butter framework and a "we can't fix the economy if we spend more than any other developed nation on health care and get less" frame and I just don't see why - if the Democrats pick up seats big time in the house and senate in 2008 - any Democratic president would let such an opportunity slip by, especially one who has said he would get it done: "not in twenty years, not in ten years, but by the end of my first term."  I'm holding him to that.  

It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners -- Albert Camus

Wellstone on health care (0.00 / 0)
You and Mike Lux portend that Jim Cooper's appointment sends a signal on the inside, I appreciate that analysis. But how does that lead you to the conclusion that Obama's strategy will be to...

...let health care reform come to the President, rather than driving it from the White House...


Wellstone, in "The Conscience of a Liberal" pushes for stronger action on pages 46 and 47. (sorry no link)

The only way we could have beaten the health care industry would have been dramatic and effective citizen politics. ... The White House, with resources a national forum and the power also failed to galvanize the American people to fight for better health care.

So how does a bush dog, active against progressive health care reform in '93-'94 help us pass single payer or any other version universal health care? Why should we assume that outside pressure will be sufficient to move the White House on this issue?

?? (0.00 / 0)
And on health care, Obama is giving signal that it is not an issue of much personal interest...

You might want to listen to the primary source every once in a while....

Obama has said that healthcare "is personal" for him since, during the last years of her life, his mother had to worry more about her healthcare than getting well.

Has Sen. Clinton said that she will achieve universal healthcare by the end of her first term?

Come on man (0.00 / 0)
Neither can say for certain that they will achieve UHC. One has a proposal that at least has the necessary components for universality, though. Can't say how personal healthcare is for Obama. He just seems to have different priorities, as do I. I think public education and housing and poverty have to be addressed before anything else. That's me, but then again, I'm not running for any office, either.

[ Parent ]
different argument (0.00 / 0)
Neither can say for certain that they will achieve UHC.

Absolutely. But, that's a different argument.

Stoller's post was about "personal interest"/intent.

[ Parent ]
That's right (0.00 / 0)
You in the last sentence of your first reply to this post asked whether Sen. Clinton would "achieve" UHC in her first term. Those were YOUR words and I basically reflected them in that sentence. That too is a different argument that Matt's. You're right on that one, I guess, but I thought that sort of question would be unfair to either candidate so I started with that.

[ Parent ]
Simple answers to simple questions... (0.00 / 0)

Has Sen. Clinton said that she will achieve universal healthcare by the end of her first term?


[ Parent ]
Calling a plant that neither has mandates (0.00 / 0)
or is single payer/free 'universal' is a little screwy.

[ Parent ]
Infamous Nevada Interview (4.00 / 1)
In the infamous Nevada interview Obama was asked what his top three priorities would be (34 minute mark): 1) change mission in Iraq, 2) health care, to be passed in first year, 3) Energy & global warming.

A different perspective on Cooper and health care (4.00 / 2)
The people I know who were involved in or observed the prior Clinton health care debacle had a pretty different perspective than Lux did. For example, note this comment from Brad Delong
from this piece: http://www.j-bradford-delong.n...

"So when senior members of the economic team said that key senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have this-and-that objection, she told them they were disloyal. When junior members of the economic team told her that the Congressional Budget Office would say such-and-such, she told them (wrongly) that her conversations with CBO head Robert Reischauer had already fixed that. When long-time senior hill staffers told her that she was making a dreadful mistake by fighting with rather than reaching out to John Breaux and Jim Cooper, she told them that they did not understand the wave of popular political support the bill would generate. And when substantive objections were raised to the plan by analysts calculating the moral hazard and adverse selection pressures it would put on the nation's health-care system..."

So, at least, it's not unanimously held, even by people who care deeply about achieving universal healthcare, that Congressman Cooper is or was an obstacle to that goal.

De Long's piece is really informative (4.00 / 1)
De Long's review accords with my memory of how that fight went down.  And De Long is absolutely right that any Pres should not kid himself or herself that s/he "understands" health care.  Obama should give broad outlines, indicate that achieving some real improvement is very, very important, but not make it his personal issue priority because it would swallow him.  He should do what De Long says Clinton should have done, which was to utilize all of the expertise in the federal gov't and Congress, let it be hashed out and listen to what people in his gov't and in Congress are saying, rather than try to force some vision on them.  Build a coalition to get reform, not a tight group to coerce a particular outcome.  Read De Long.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
That was 1993 and 94 (4.00 / 2)
This is 2008 with a much greater need and rationale for UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. Brad DeLong is just wrong in his characterization.

Is this not called Open Left?  LEFT....then in what universe has John Breaux ever been on the left?  Hell he and Trent Lott have a lobbying firm together.

John Breaux and  Jim Cooper are to the right of every issue on which the progressive netroots community has ever cared about....If they are for it, then you should be against it.

Brad Delong describes the 93 process but Jim Cooper and John Breaux's role and even Pat Moynihan (that sainted liberal (snark)...always drunk) were not there to get universal health care passed but to undrmine it.  The insurance industry actually adopted Cooper's plan to ward off any changes that would cut into their profits....

You don't want these people involved because they will destroy any chance at universal or single payer health care...I continue to be mightily disturbed about this.

Being ignorant of history does indeed lead to foolish judgements.

Matt is only 30 years old and people in his age bracket, like my kids,  still think they are physically invulnerable...his lack of concern with universal health care is typical of many in his generation.  He doesn't see the wreckage it causes up close and personal. I understand that....

But in this case you can't get universal health care without leadership...It's just like Doris Kearns Goodwin said about the passage of the Voting Rights Act....MLK and LBJ worked hand in hand to enact that bill (there's an amazing phone call where they both strategize how to use the elma march to move the legislation)...there would have been no bill without both of them...Healthcare is in that category. Healthcare requires leadership.

Health care is also the key to recreating a long, lasting progressive era in at it, pursue it half heartedly than this potential new progressive era will be aborted.

That is why I am not for Barack Obama...He is giving up on a golden oppurtunity for the future of this country.  

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
There are good reasons for this (4.00 / 3)
There is more elite consensus on global warming than there is on health care. It is easier to pass. Only Specter, Snowe, and Collins stand a snowball's chance in hell of voting for a health care bill. But a number of GOP Senators might vote for global warming: anyone of the targeted challengers who face tough reelection prospects; and with various goodies, you could get Grassley, Bingaman, even the Texas senators on board (Texas can generate some huge amount of wind power), plus of course Snowe and Collins.

I've said for a long time that the way to go is for Obama to "beat the big oil companies", then end up failing to get health care reform through, the campaign in 2010 on "beating the big drug and big insurance companies".

Healthcare reform is essential for everything else (4.00 / 4)
Without healthcare reform, the national finances go down the toilet and there are no resources for anything else, including fighting global warming.

Industry's solution: use IT as a basis for enabling people to shop for the best value in healthcare.  As someone who stands to make money feeding this fantasy, I find it frightening.  Think people got screwed by the mortgage industry?  Just wait.

There are two problems with fixing healthcare: the insurance industry, and the GOP which knows that it cannot afford another program like Social Security to take hold.  By and large, the captains of industry in this country share the GOP point of view, even though it is killing their own companies' competitiveness.  Some countries are just too stupid to survive.

If Obama was committed to this, it would be a centerpoint of his campaign.  It isn't, because he isn't.  He demonstrates no inclination to fight the political fight for this.  The Harry and Louise ads are all I need to know.

Ending the money drain in Iraq is the essential piece (4.00 / 1)
Or there is no money for anything else.

I agree he should start with an issue that is likely to be a winner, and that is climate change.

John McCain--He's not who you think he is.

[ Parent ]
If you think there would be any difference... (0.00 / 0)
....between President Clinton and President Obama on Iraq, you are not inhabiting the same universe as me....

The road out of Iraq goes through Palestine.  That is the key.

[ Parent ]
Double standard (4.00 / 2)
The same people who get into a lather over Mark Penn advising Hillary Clinton on her CAMPAIGN have no problem with an uber Bush dog shaping Obama's health care policy.
It's good to be the king.

Two requests (4.00 / 1)
(1) Define surrogate; and

(2) Offer a link (besides Mike Lux saying so without a link) so we can examine this allegation in context:

But there are still certain things that make me really, really nervous about Obama. At the top of that list is the health care debate, where I think he's just wrong about the importance of universality, and where he's employed Harry and Louise-style tactics to argue against Clinton's plan. My concerns shifted into overdrive, though, when I noticed that the Obama campaign is now using Rep. Jim Cooper as a spokesperson/surrogate on health care.

I googled "Jim Cooper and Barack Obama" and find very little to suggest Obama has embraced Cooper's positions on health care.

Oy veh (4.00 / 1)
The next President is going to be whacked with a series of economic and foreign policy crises, and I'm not sure where health care fits in.

You've got to be kidding.  Is this blog really called Open Left?

Check out Conscience of a Liberal in which Krugman argues persuasively (and has a chapter titled The Health Care Imperative) that "Health care reform is the natural centerpiece of a new New Deal. If liberals want to show that progressive politics can create a better, more just society, this is the place to start"


"Universal health care could, in short, be to a new New Deal what Social Security was to the original--both a crucially important program in its own right, and a reaffirmation of the principle that we are our brothers' keepers. Getting universal care should be the key domestic priority for modern liberals. Once they succeed there, they can turn to the broader, more difficult task of reining in American inequalty."

Maybe that's why Krugman gets so upset at BO's plan--or lack thereof.

I've never thought it was hugely important to Obama (0.00 / 0)
That's based on my belief that Obama came up with his health care plan by mostly just copying what Howard Dean put out as his intended campaign centerpiece for 2004 before Iraq turned out to be the big issue.  And, really, if Dean didn't want to be DNC chairman anymore, I would be happy watching him head up some sort of health care task force.

On the other hand, it seems like it is important to Obama because it is important to a broad range of people.  However, so much time and energy has been spent on attacking him over mandates that he can't back down on that point without looking weak, so any effort is pretty much wasted if your goal is to move him on that point during the campaign (but not if your goal is try to drive up his negatives).

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

In the summer and fall he acknowleldged his plan wasn't universal (4.00 / 1)
He decided that it was political liability after a couple of debates. So in the fall instead of fixing his plan he decided to attack her better plan with his worse plan based on lies about his plan and her plan.  It's when he started to get traction.  

Don't get angry and tell me I'm smeaing him...maybe his ability to get away with misrepresenting his position and his opppnent's position is just the thing to win for him in the general.

Even now in Wisconsin he runs ads that are equally untruthful on healthcare.  He claims his is universal... a you lie but the media is so full of double standards that it's not even noticed ed he's lying. The blogosphere forgives him for lying,  then I think it is a real question whether the people who voted for him are doing so based on true informatiion about how he would govern.

I don;t think so...some people are going to be very disappointed and angry...

"Incrementalism isn't a different path to the same place, it could be a different path to a different place"

[ Parent ]
Priorities (0.00 / 0)
I don't think it's going to be possible for Obama to avoid the health care fight, and of course he shouldn't. However, I'm going to admit that at a personal level health care isn't the top issue for me as a voter. Its importance to me is mostly a result of the financial strain it puts on the national economy. I do support UHC, but as an aspiring scientist, global warming and energy policy is far and away the most important issue. Energy policy is not necessary a long term expense, with the right policies it could be a financial positive in the long term. At a very personal level, I'm working on a Ph.D. dissertation on the biology of coral reefs; without a lot of effort put into the global warming cause I could be out of a job in a couple of decades (although, on the bright side, once Florida is underwater it would make a really nice, big coral reef!)

Not going to get into the UHC argument.... (0.00 / 0) the wrong terminology anyway. It must be:

Not-for-Profit Single Payer (the government) anyway.

Here is the simple, affordable answer to Global Warming. It can not only be applied here but also in many other countries, anyone with a big desert at the least, and it's all ready to go:

It is a contention of mine that solutions do exist, in many places are ready to go, for many of our most pressing problems but that inattention, stupidity and most of all the corruption of the poltical process combined with the 'conservative' assertion that 'government is the problem....', unless you are rich of course, are preventing the implementation of said solutions. We in the 'sphere could do worse than publicize some of these solutions and bring them to the attention of our 'leaders'.

This link points to a great big solution to a great big problem.

Let's hear the Great and Change oriented 'O' endorse this instead of his plan to stay  in Iraq. Which you can learn about here:

Thanks for your time and attention.

Peace, Health and Prosperity for Everyone.

Not waiting on the President (4.00 / 1)
Personally, I'm not thrilled by the plans from either Hillary or Obama. But they won't be the only Democrats in DC come 2009. I'd imagine that, say, Sen. Kennedy might have a thought or two on the subject.

It seems like the prudent thing to do would be to plan on pushing for the best approach - not the most expedient, not the most politically possible (not to start with, please!), but the Best - no matter who wins. The final result will be something else, of course, but public pressure in the right direction is a tool to help form the negotiations.

What would be the obstacles to having a health care plan originate from Congress? Are there not enough votes to initiate something like this - that they'd rather be able to have it come from the White House and somehow take cover from that? Would they create a worse plan due to being owned by the industries involved?

not everything worth doing is profitable. not everything profitable is worth doing.

Well, (0.00 / 0)
I couldn't be more happy with his first priority being climate change, if indeed it is. Somehow, I'm inclined to think that keeping the planet inhabitable for the human species trumps every other potential consideration. (Along with averting nuclear war, perhaps).

All of these issues are very important, but at some point, you do have to prioritize, and getting us out of the sinking shithole we're in now before building things above it seems like a solid plan to me.

Senator Clinton may have some say (4.00 / 1)
If there is a President Obama, there will be a Senator Clinton with a good health care plan.  I hope she makes it her priority in the Senate, no matter what Obama wants. Would he veto it?

Probably not (0.00 / 0)
But I have serious doubts about it reaching his desk.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Why? (0.00 / 0)
Why would such a plan have a harder time reaching his (hypoethetical) desk than hers? (I know that might sound pissy and antagonistic, but it's an actual question).

[ Parent ]
It wouldn't have a harder time reaching his rather than hers (0.00 / 0)
But it would have a difficult time reaching any president's desk and I don't think that Clinton or Obama in the White House would make any difference.  Obama's Howard Dean-ish plan has a much better chance of getting through.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Selling Out the Poor Already? (0.00 / 0)
For the latte set?

Look at Obama's campaign (0.00 / 0)
It's right before our eyes.  He's building an aggresively non-ideological power base to give him freedom of movement on policy after he's elected.  He's already signaling he's fully prepared to tack right.  Ben Nelson had no trouble seeing what Obama's liberal supporters refuse to see.

I have to say... (4.00 / 3)
....I'm always more than a little befuddled when people talk about what Obama (or Clinton) will do about health care, as if we were electing an absolute monarch. The president can propose a plan, advocate for a plan, sell a plan to the people (the latter two being Obama's chief strengths), but he can only enact as law a plan that has been approved by both houses of congress.
Let's say Obama is elected, Hillary Clinton (and her husband) still has a national following, a bully pulpit and enormous political capital. She (and Kennedy and Feingold and Boxer and Sanders and for that matter Jon Tester) can still exert a great deal of influence on a new health care plan. And I'm an Obama supporter in spite of his health care plan.

And to the couple of people who say Obama is dead to them because of his health care plan (or because he's not Hillary, or because he sorta kinda said something nice about Ronald Reagan).... Do you really want president McCain to veto any possible health care plan? Without even getting into the Supreme Court and bombing Iran...?

tea leaves (4.00 / 1)
"So I'm left wondering and reading the tea leaves about what his priorities might be as President."
That kinda says it all.

Definitely! (4.00 / 1)
Dude shoulda used a Ouiji Board!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Healthcare is a signature progressive issue for Democrats (0.00 / 0)
If they fail this time, what are Democrats good for?  Why should any middle or working class Democrats stay with a party that doesn't fight for their needs?  If this becomes the case, there is an opportunity for a new third party to take up the cause, not just for healthcare, but for other quality of life issues as well.  I've just about had it, myself.  If we don't get workable healthcare the party is worthless to me.  People are dying out here.

Yeah right! (0.00 / 0)
Got to lower expectations, huh?

Not likely... (0.00 / 0)
The hypnotized crowd is already too high in the clouds to think straight

[ Parent ]
And that's what you Obama fans call change??? (0.00 / 0)
"That Obama is using Cooper as a surrogate means that he is sending a signal to Capitol Hill and the business community that he will take their concerns into account when formulating his plan, and that he's not going to repeat Clinton's experience in 1993-1994."

Uh huh. Reaching across the aisle to lobbyists. Unity with business. Hmm, sounds very republican to me! How is this supposed to be a change?

The Clinton approach of the 90s was much more revolutionary. Ok, it was flawed in the way it was executed, but it could have succeeded if it had united the Dems behind a real program for the people. Clinton didn't focus on business approval for the bill, and rightly so. The Obama strategy in contrast is simply more of the same old same old K-Street pandering.

Well, another show of Obama's character flaw of wanting to be liked by everybody, and this strait will effectively prevent him from implementing any real progressive policies. It has always been the same with him: Read old accounts about his time at the Harvard Law Review, or about his actions as state Senator - he always wanted to be the nice guy for all sides. But you can't do any liberal politics this way.

Really, I can't understand the enthusiasm in the allegedly progressive blogosphere about this snake oil salesman. Whenever a candidate is supported by a noticeable share of republicans, this should make alarm bells ringing on the liberal side. Face it, such a guy is extremely unlikely to bring real change.

Are you serious? (0.00 / 0)
You have to "read tea leaves" to know where your candidate stands?

Talk about blind faith.  

Someone explain to me why a voter would support a presidential candidate whose priorities the voter has to guess about.  Please.


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