Obama's bait-and-switch campaign
By: Norm Coleman
April 6, 2010 05:00 AM EDT
One telling moment in the 18-month health care debate was at the White House summit. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reminded President Barack Obama of his campaign promises to "bring us together" on health care.
"We're not campaigning anymore," the president said. "The election is over." The next question should have been, "Does that mean your campaign promises are null and void?"
Enough time has passed, and enough actions have been seen, to conclude that Obama ran as one kind of president but is governing as a very different one.
What the American people want is the kind of president Obama sold them: a post-partisan consensus builder.
They are justifiably angry at the massive bait-and-switch on health care reform, the most important public policy debate in our lifetime. Obama has violated their trust, which is especially devastating with the long list of challenges we need unity for to tackle, like jobs, energy and the deficit.
Health care is an emotional issue for everyone. In my years in government, I learned that the deeper an issue, the more carefully leaders have to listen — and the greater the need for consensus building rather than using raw political power.
Obama promised to expand health care coverage by 32 million people and add not one dime to the deficit. He promised Americans who wanted to keep their coverage that the government would leave it alone.
He promised the bill would help the economy and grow jobs when millions of unemployed Americans are looking for hope.
He promised not to add to states' debts.
But those promises won't come true.
The law will not pay for itself. In a New York Times op-ed piece, former Congressional Budget Office head and American Action Forum President Douglas Holtz-Eakin estimated it could put the country about $560 billion in the hole.
The law could cost jobs, hurt economic growth and hamper innovation. Verizon, AT&T, Caterpillar, John Deere, 3M and other companies have filed SEC reports saying that this bill will cost them a combined $10 billion.
Beacon Hill Institute, the fiscally conservative economic research group of Boston's Suffolk University, estimates 700,000 jobs will be lost, as small and medium-sized businesses try to provide health care for their employees.
The law does not allow seniors to keep the insurance they have. By 2019, 4.8 million seniors will be squeezed out of Medicare Advantage.
The law does not help states with the high cost of health care. It makes the states' budget situations worse. By 2014, states will be required to pay 50 percent of the administrative costs that come with expanding Medicaid.
This law will not let the middle class keep its plans. The CBO projects that by 2016, the basic plan, covering only 70 percent of a family's medical expenses, will cost $14,100 a year. Families making $88,000 or more won't qualify for the government subsidies.
This means a family making $100,000 could spend as much as one-fifth of annual income to keep private insurance.
Everybody understands that the status quo on health care was not acceptable.
This issue cried out for a bipartisan approach. We should have worked together and done things differently.
In fact, Obama promised during the campaign that he would do things differently — with change we could all believe in.
The American people believed that he would change how Washington does business — that he would seek consensus, that he would genuinely listen to the other side, find the best ideas and move forward in such a way as to unify the country.
But he didn't. Instead, he decided to jam legislation down the throats of the American people. Poll after poll shows that a majority of the people do not support this law.
They don't like the cost. They don't like what they believe will be its impact on their personal health insurance.
Most of all, they don't like the process. They don't like the backroom deals. They don't like the arm-twisting. They don't like the exercise of raw power that shows that the politicians are not listening to them.
And it is not just on health care. On issue after issue, Obama campaigned one way and is governing in a different way.
He said he would fight waste, but he signed a pork-filled stimulus bill. He said he would cut taxes on the middle class, but they face tax increases with health care reform. He said he would be Israel's strongest supporter, but we all now know that isn't true.
He said he would unify the country. But the country is more polarized than ever.
The president took great pride in signing this health care law. But that won't help him with the American people.
He is not living up to his promises. This law does not live up to its promise.
We can do better. The president is right: We aren't campaigning anymore.
But it is obvious that Obama the campaigner was more compelling than Obama the president — who looks to be a rather conventional liberal politician.
Norm Coleman, who served as a Republican senator from Minnesota, is chief executive officer of the American Action Network.