NYT Tees Up the Blame for ObamaCare’s Failure Solely on the Shoulders of Obama
In the White House, many of his top advisers, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, counseled Mr. Obama against a sweeping health care overhaul. By summer 2009, with the country still stunned by economic crisis and Republicans falsely raising the specter of death panels, some aides practically begged the president to scale back, take interim steps and move on to other issues.
Mr. Obama did not relent. He had an economic rationale for stabilizing a dysfunctional health system, but he also “saw what Teddy called the moral issue,” Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s widow, said in an interview, referring to her husband. For those who wondered what Mr. Obama really believed in, universal health coverage seemed to be the answer.
As the brutal fight continued, the president sacrificed more and more in its name: an overhaul of energy and environmental laws, greater focus on economic issues, some of his own popularity and that of House Democrats, who eventually lost their hard-won majority. “Michelle and I are perfectly comfortable if we’re only here one term if we feel like we really accomplished something,” he told aides….
“To have a voice as profound as the Supreme Court say it’s unconstitutional,” said Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who was an adviser on the law, would be “bad news all around.”
But there are clues that Mr. Obama is privately grappling with both the potential loss of universal health care and how much of it he might be able to restore. At a recent fund-raiser in Manhattan, he rattled off a second-term agenda, and along with tax reform and immigration, he mentioned coming back to health care, to work around a negative ruling. His tone was matter-of-fact, one attendee said.
If the court strikes down the mandate and Mr. Obama wins in November, he could face one last version of his perpetual choice on health care: would he settle, learning to live with a sharply edited law? (Given that Republicans see the bill as a signature piece of big-government overreach, he might have no choice.) Or would he expend yet more precious capital on health care?
Ezekiel Emanuel, Rahm’s brother and a former health adviser to the president, predicted the second path. “Too much of the president’s legacy — and the good of the country — is tied up with this,” he said.
The final result on health care, then, will help determine whether Mr. Obama is the game-changing president he aspired to be.
“This is his singular policy achievement,” said Barry Friedman, a law professor at New York University who wrote a brief supporting the law. “So there’s a palpable pain in having this go down.”
Though the White House continues to maintain official silence on contingency plans, Mr. Obama hinted at his thinking a few weeks ago. “In my first term, we passed health care reform,” he began a joke at the White House Correspondents Dinner in April. “In my second term, I guess I’ll pass it again.”