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The President's Plan

Hanns Kuttner

Not starting with a plan put down with the president was said to be one of the lessons learned from the failed Clinton-era effort to bring about “comprehensive” health-care reform. In the current round of “comprehensive” health-care reform, we have arrived at the point where the president has put down a plan.

Coming at this stage in the process, with no great fanfare, this does not seem in form or content a “presidential plan” as that phrase has evolved in the modern presidency. In thinking of what this looks like, the president’s plan (fully specified here) looks like a “Dear Conferee” letter sent by the executive branch to the legislative branch at the very end of the legislative process offering the executive’s suggestions about how the differences between the House and Senate could be bridged. It does not suggest starting over.

This plan is a set of suggestions for how the differing (partisan) approaches of the House and Senate might be resolved. If the suggestions could be summarized, it would be, split the difference. 

There is one striking area where the president’s plan (or “president’s key improvements,” as the White House website puts it) does not suggest how the House and Senate should resolve their differences. Abortion. It appears the president has no suggestions for how those differences could be resolved.

Bipartisanship shows up in only one area: fighting fraud and abuse in government health-care programs. The president’s plan calls for going beyond what is in the bills passed by the House or Senate. The president backs one provision from the House Republican Study Committee bill. Several new provisions from a bill introduced by Rep. Mark Kirk, now the Republican nominee for the Senate seat once held by President Obama, also get an endorsement.

Coming together to fight fraud and abuse appears to be most that the president’s plan sees as grounds for bipartisan co-operation for health-care reform. This shows that there is at least one area where both parties can agree. It also shows that the areas of agreement are precious few. And now it is up to the majority party to decide whether they will pursue a partisan or bipartisan approach.

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