Dear Mr. President:
Congratulations – two days ago the Senate passed a comprehensive health care bill, achieving a long-sought liberal initiative regarding a system that badly needs reform. Unless something extremely unexpected occurs, it will soon be on your desk, for you to sign into law or veto.
I highly doubt that you will ever read this post and the advice it offers, and I’m fairly sure you’ve made your mind up to sign the bill a long time ago. Nevertheless, I will deign to offer you some thoughts.
Before signing health care reform into law, I urge you to carefully review the bill one final time – to consider the immense consequences of this action. Take a long hard look at the proposal: Will the market exchanges really work? Will the bill really succeed in bending the cost curve? Health care reform will impact the nation on a vast scale, affecting millions of citizens and the financial health of the United States. It may constitute the defining issue of the Obama presidency.
A number of critiques have been raised with the law, from both left and right. Some probably lack intellectual seriousness – “death panels killing granny,” for instance. Others, however, constitute legitimate concerns which many Americans share. Republicans have raised the issue of the deficit; this bill utilizes ten years of revenue to pay for its first five years of spending. That cannot last forever. Some intellectuals also worry about the bill’s similarities to the recent Massachusetts health care endeavor, which has run into significant difficulties.
There is one consideration, however, which should not enter your mind for even one second – but Beltway politics is obsessed with at the moment. I am speaking, of course, of the 2010 congressional elections. The Washington consensus proclaims that a failed bill will doom Democrats to a repeat of the 1994 Republican landslide. Yet signing the bill to do better in next year’s congressional elections constitutes a terrible idea. Say the worst happens – Democrats lose the House in November. That is a small price to pay for the nation’s continued well-being, if vetoing the bill will achieve this. In two years nobody will remember the results anyways. Who remembers Republican congressional losses in 1862 under President Abraham Lincoln, or those in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan? The 1994 elections hurt President Bill Clinton so badly that…he cruised to re-election, ended his term with approval ratings in the mid-60s, and today carries a legacy as an effective leader who presided over an economic boom.
In reading this letter, one may be under the impression that I am against the bill in its current form. Certainly the bill is far from perfect; personally I would have preferred far, far more cost-cutting measures. Nevertheless, I do think the reforms represent at least some improvement over the status quo; politics, if nothing else, is the art of compromise and this reform is much better than nothing. I support the bill with strong reservations.
But I am not the president of the United States; that title and the power with it belongs to you, along with the choice to sign or veto health care reform. I hope that before signing the bill, you take a long hard look at whether it will really work – and when you do sign it, that you do so not for political reasons (such as next year’s congressional elections), but for the country’s welfare.
Best of luck, and God bless,