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Green Lantern ACA Addendum

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Armando asks a common question with respect to my post from this morning:

Well, whether the ACA was literally the most that could have been obtained is unknowable. But I will say this:

  • Of course Obama had agency.  It was because of him that health care reform was the top priority, and he certainly could have abandoned it in exchange for token reforms, as his chief of staff inter alia urged him to do after the election of Scott Brown.  Again, nobody thinks that the presidency is powerless.  The question is whether Obama could have done something to get a dozen+ conservative Democrats in the Senate to vote for progressive additions to the ACA they clearly didn’t support.
  • It seems to me that given many decades of failure to pass comprehensive health reform, the burden of proof rests squarely on those who think that Obama could have gotten substantially more.  How, in concrete terms, is Obama getting Lieberman’s vote for a public option?  Then repeat for Nelson, Bayh, etc. etc.   (And, no, “end the filibuster” isn’t an answer, since there aren’t even 50 votes for that now.)
  • In particular, any counterfactual must take into account that Bill Clinton tried the strategy most commonly favored by the ACA’s left critics (develop a plan, use public pressure to get Congress to pass it), and it was an utter catastrophe that set back health care reform for a generation.  Again, the burden of proof is one those who want to argue that Obama should have repeated this strategy rather than trying to do something different, especially since Obama’s actually, you know, worked.
  • If you look at the comments thread, it’s instructive that the “Obama failed by getting unprecedented legislation passed” crowd can’t help assuming that Obama is a Westminster Prime Minister.  Did you know that Obama “let” Max Baucus take charge of the bill as a powerful Senate committee chairman?  Not if you understand anything about American politics.
  • If you want me to take your counterfactuals seriously, it’s probably best to not characterize plans that are supported by Republicans only when supermajorities of liberal Democrats would pass them anyway as “Republican plans.”
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