Some wags have labeled President Obama's performance last night as the "professor-in-chief." "If I really like a politician’s speech," wondered Paul Krugman, "isn’t that an indication that he lacks the popular touch?"
Krugman was closer than he knew. Obama wasn't just the professor-in-chief. He was the economist-in-chief. He used words like "incentivize" and talked about the need for patients to be more "discriminating consumers." He talked about the way that fee-for-service encourages overtreatment and the dangers that health-care costs pose to our debt. And then there was this section:
[I]f somebody told you that there is a plan out there that is guaranteed to double your health care costs over the next 10 years, that's guaranteed to result in more Americans losing their health care, and that is by far the biggest contributor to our federal deficit, I think most people would be opposed to that.
Well, that's status quo. That's what we have right now.
So if we don't change, we can't expect a different result. And that's why I think this is so important, not only for those families out there who are struggling, and who need some protection from abuses in the insurance industry, or need some protection from skyrocketing costs, but it's also important for our economy.
And, by the way, it's important for a family's wages and incomes. One of the things that doesn't get talked about is the fact that, when premiums are going up and the cost to employers are going up, that's money that could be going into people's wages and incomes.
And over the last decade, we basically saw middle-class families, their income and wages flat-lined. Part of the reason is because health care costs are gobbling that up.
The first two paragraphs are almost a direct lift from the column that Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post's economics columnist, wrote yesterday. The last two paragraph are almost a direct lift from the column that David Leonhardt, the New York Times economics columnist, wrote yesterday. The White House is, at the moment, interested in a very particular kind of argument for health-care reform, and that argument is being found in the business section, rather than the op-ed page, of newspapers.
This isn't necessarily a surprise. A hefty group of the participants in the White House's health-care meetings are economists. Peter Orszag, of course. Jason Furman. Jared Bernstein. Larry Summers. I even hear reports of Christina Romer and Tim Geithner having an occasional say. And many of the health-care wonks involved in the process -- Zeke Emanuel comes to mind -- have something of the economist's approach to this issue as well. That might be why Obama did an interview with Fred Hiatt yesterday entirely focused on the relationship between health-care reform and fiscal responsibility. That's the critique that's stinging him.
But the end result is that Obama talks about this more like someone worried about health-care costs than about health care. As a matter of policy, that's probably the right approach. But as a style for conducting press conferences, I'm not sure how well it works. Obama is making a big bet on the policy case for health-care reform, as opposed to the moral urgency of health-care reform. It's a macro argument rather than a micro argument. And Obama makes it well. The question, which I don't think anyone knows the answer to yet, is whether it's the right argument.
Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press Photo .
July 23, 2009; 10:35 AM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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