Why Did Obama Choose Health Care?

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At Climate Progress, Joe Romm wonders why Barack Obama prioritized health care over climate change, and calls the choice "a blunder of historic proportions." Kevin Drum comments with his take on the Obama administration's process for choosing health care over climate:

I'm just guessing here, but I'd say that Obama probably prioritized healthcare for a couple of reasons. First, it seemed like a better political win. It promised goodies for voters, after all, whereas climate change legislation promised nothing except higher electricity bills. Second, I'll bet that after a few months in office his legislative folks concluded that a decent climate change bill could never pass the Senate. And I think they were right. My take on things is that even a half-ass climate bill tops out at 55 votes, and even that's only with a ton of arm twisting. Climate change never really had a chance.

I co-sign on this, but let me add the following: health-care reform is the closest thing the Democratic Party has to a core principle. It's been a party priority for more than seven decades, and nearly every Democratic president of the postwar era gave a go at reforming the system. Successful Democratic politicians built their careers on reforming the health-care system, and when Obama entered office, the coalition for reform included the entire Democratic Party. The exact method for reforming health care was a point of contention during the 2008 primaries, but no serious candidate would have challenged the notion that health care was a right guaranteed by the government. The political coalition for climate change is strong, but not as strong.

Indeed, it's not an exaggeration to say that Obama was locked into health-care reform from the moment he entered office; any other choice would have forced a direct confrontation with major party interests, with the real potential of harming his future priorities. This isn't to excuse the Obama administration's lackluster performance on climate but to say that there's a lot more to governing than simply the president's priorities.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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