As Barack Obama ends his first year in office, there is much talk about disillusionment with the president among progressives. The litany of complaints is obvious: unemployment still at 10 percent, economic policies unduly favorable to Wall Street, the surge in Afghanistan, compromises on health care, the failure to close down Guantánamo, and a general inability to bring about the transformative change that Obama spoke of during his campaign.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus, Monday, Dec. 14, 2009, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
The moment of decision on health-care reform is arriving for progressives in Congress. Some of them have insisted they will refuse to vote for any bill without a public option, and that is now the only bill that has any chance of passing. If they hold to their position, the most significant social reform on behalf of low-income Americans in 40 years will go down to defeat.
A Senate staffer passes out paperwork prior to a health care news conference. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
No provision of the health-care reforms being debated in Congress is as likely to generate a popular backlash as is the individual mandate -- the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance if they are not otherwise covered. But there is an alternative to the mandate as it is currently structured that can accomplish the same purpose without raising as much opposition.
The continuing rise in the unemployment rate, up to 10.2 percent in November, has to give a sense of urgency to Democrats in Congress and the administration about the work they have at hand before next fall's elections. In 2010 Republicans are looking to repeat the success they had in 1994 after Bill Clinton's first two years, and if Democrats do not produce results soon, Barack Obama may suffer the same kind of midterm reversal as Clinton did.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
As the debate over health reform enters its decisive stage, there is a lot of talk about the need for compromise between Democrats and Republicans. That was a sensible point to make in years past when Republicans offered alternatives for reform to compete with Democratic proposals. But this year there are two problems with the idea of bipartisan compromise. The first is that Republicans in Congress have not even made a pretense of offering constructive alternatives. The second is that the Democratic proposals are built around the ideas that Republicans used to favor -- those proposals already are bipartisan compromises. Unfortunately, they are compromises with a Republican Party that no longer exists.