Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
"Don't make the perfect the enemy of the better," says the president and congressional insiders when confronted with the sorry spectacle of a health-care bill whose scope and ambition continue to shrink, and whose long-term costs to typical Americans continue to grow. They're right, of course. But by the same logic, neither the White House nor congressional Democrats will be able to celebrate the emerging legislation as a "major overhaul" or "fundamental reform." At best, it's likely to be a small overhaul containing incremental reforms.
The public option is dead, killed by a handful of senators from small states who are mostly bought off by Big Insurance and Big Pharma or intimidated by these industries' deep pockets and power to run political ads against them. Some might say it's no great loss at this point because the Senate bill Harry Reid came up with contained a public option available only to 4 million people, which would have been far too small to exert any competitive pressure on private insurers anyway.
Barack Obama is trying once again for balance. On the one hand, he wants enough government spending to offset the timid spending of consumers and businesses. Otherwise, the jobs and wage recession could drag on for years. On the other hand, he doesn't want to set off more alarm bells about the budget deficit. Otherwise, conservative Democrats might join forces with Republicans to block heath care. So what does he do? A little bit more stimulus spending, but stimulus spending that doesn't look like more stimulus because it's not really adding to the deficit. It's coming out of savings from money already authorized to be spent on the bank bailout. Hmmm?
Most ideas for creating more jobs assume jobs will return when the economy recovers. So the immediate goal is to accelerate the process. A second stimulus would be helpful, especially directed at state governments that are now mounting an anti-stimulus package (tax increases, job cuts, service cuts) of over $200 billion this year and next. If the deficit hawks threaten to take flight, the administration should use the remaining TARP funds.
One out of four homeowners is now under water, owing more on their homes than the homes are worth. Why? The biggest single factor behind the housing crisis is rising unemployment. According to the latest ABC-Washington Post poll, one out of every three Americans has either lost their job or lives in a household with someone who has lost a job. Today it takes two and sometimes three incomes to buy the groceries and pay the mortgage or the rent. So if one of those incomes is gone, a homeowner can't make the payment.