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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama Reverses on Health Care

Ezra Klein reports on a second spot in the health care plan where Obama appears to be asking Congress to pick up a policy that he attacked during the campaign.

The first was lifting the tax exemption on health benefits -- which he attacked McCain for suggesting. Now, Klein reports, Obama's team is steering Congress toward including mandates in its health care plan -- a key front of Obama's primary battle against Hillary:

[T]he Obama administration will provide most of the money -- though not all -- and the governing objectives and Congress will be asked to hammer out the details.One of those details is universal health care coverage. ....The budget -- and I was cautioned that the wording "is changing hourly" -- will direct Congress to "aim for universality."...Administration officials have been very clear on what the inclusion of "universality" is meant to communicate to Congress. As one senior member of the health team said to me, "it will cover everybody. And I don't see how you cover everybody without an individual mandate."

That language almost precisely echoes what Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus told me in an interview last summer. "I don’t see how you can get meaningful universal coverage without a mandate," he said.The administration, in other words, is not specifically proposing an individual mandate in the budget, but they are asking Congress to fulfill an objective that they expect will result in Congress proposing an individual mandate. And despite the controversy over the individual mandate in the campaign, they will support it. That, after all, is how you cover everybody.

The mandate is saleable in part because the industry likes the idea; it would drive more customers into their arms. But Obama himself discovered how unpopular it can be, if sold -- as he sold it -- as a measure to "force" people into spending money on health care.

Liberal health care advocates were angered at the time because, they said, foes of universal care would turn Obama's arguments against him when he -- inevitably -- came around to their view that mandates were essential. Perhaps they had a point.

Here's a sample of that attack (.pdf):

Go here to read it all.

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