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How fast should Obama be moving?


In today's column, David Brooks echoes the conservative conventional wisdom that President Obama "is moving too fast," though he attributes the sentiment to independent voters as opposed to himself. As Tim Fernholz notes, however, it's not clear that Obama's moving all that fast. "Since the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last winter, the president hasn't convinced Congress to pass a major piece of legislation." Obama signed the stimulus bill into law Feb. 17. Expectations are that he'll sign health-care reform sometime near, or maybe after, December 2009. It's hardly breakneck stuff.

But just as some people like planes and some people like trains, opinions can differ on that. It would be good, however, if people were clear about how fact the political system should be moving.

Take health-care reform. Putting aside the fact that Congress has been intermittently debating this issue since the early 20th century, Ron Wyden introduced his legislation in January 2007. Barack Obama released his campaign health-care plan, which looks a lot like the plans Congress is considering now, May 29, 2007. The Senate Finance Committee officially began examining the issue in June 2008.

Different people could start the clock at different points. If you're tracking Obama, then he's been moving on health-care reform for 29 months. If you're tracking the congressional process, then it's 17 months. If you're tracking the first new bill introduced in this round, then it's 33 months. And of course, you could simply argue that America has been doing this for decades, across the presidencies of Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Harry Truman and many others.

Which begs the question: What would an appropriately slow process look like? Be specific.

Photo credit: By Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  November 6, 2009; 4:31 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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Liberal conventional wisdom is that he is moving too slow. Sometimes you just can't win.

Posted by: GregDC | November 6, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm guessing that the "moving too fast" crowd will quickly jump on board the "gets nothing done" train when the time comes, without a hint of whiplash.

Posted by: Chris_O | November 6, 2009 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Ack, my eyes! "Begs the question!?!"

Posted by: m_mcmullen | November 6, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

It is so easy for Obama to score a victory. Just reduce the price tag of the bill, get rid of the government option, and then you'll get bipartisan support. Easy lay-up.

This can be done in by X-mas.

Posted by: RandomWalk1 | November 6, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

One of the most contentious issues has been the so-called public option. Up until just recently the thinking was that it was dead. Well, it's since been resurrected. The point is that what's in or out of the bill changes from week-to-week and even day-to-day.

The debate is pretty academic until you have a final bill to evaluate. How long after the ink is dry on the final House bill do you suppose Speaker Pelosi will wait before holding her vote? Days? Hours? She seems to want to hold the vote over the weekend. Do you suppose that's to avoid public scrutiny of the final draft prior to the vote?

Posted by: tbass1 | November 6, 2009 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Unless it's sending more troops to war, in which case he's dragging his feet. Ignore everything conservatives complain about, and you'll be happier and won't miss anything important.

Posted by: jeirvine | November 6, 2009 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Brooks turns in yet another bit of filler based on Republican lies and fake complaints to meet his op-ed obligation.

Somehow I don't think Mr. Brooks considers his print space to be as precious as Paul Krugman takes his own to be, but perhaps that is because Mr. Krugman has real ideas and real incites based on real history, real data, and real knowledge.

Posted by: bcbulger | November 6, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse


Well, in the article in question, Mr. Brooks did cite the Republican margins of victory in a number of races. And, if you like data, there's this aggregation of polls which shows a majority of American's opposing the Dem's health reform plan(s):

It seems pretty clear that the president, his party and their health reform bills are all losing support. That may well be why Speaker Pelosi is so anxious to pass a bill quickly. If the health care unfavorability trend continues on its present course, the risk of Dem. defections will rise. Indeed, if we are lucky we are past or fast approaching a tipping point.

Posted by: tbass1 | November 6, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Ack, my eyes! "Begs the question!?!"

First thing I thought, as well.

Posted by: xmattx | November 6, 2009 10:58 PM | Report abuse

"What would an appropriately slow process look like? Be specific."

An appropriately slow process would have started with *listening* sessions between legislators and their consitutents -- patients and doctors. Every member of Congress would have been encouraged to spend as much time as possible with his constituents during the first six months of the year.

No meetings with industry representatives would have been entertained, and no deals of any kind made before the first phase was completed.

Nothing would have been "off the table" for discussion. The process would have been accompanied by responsible journalistic coverage of various models for health care financing -- beyond the binary single-payer vs patchwork non-system discussions that have characterized 95% of the coverage in this newspaper and other outlets.

The problems would have been defined in terms of health *care* rather focusing on financial products that do not themselves deliver any care at all.

Posted by: Athena_news | November 7, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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