With Obama, 'vigorous debate' is tough to have


by The Oklahoman

Source: The Oklahoman

During his speech last week about income inequality, President Barack Obama pressed those who don't like his health care plan to “explain how, exactly, you'd cut costs and cover more people and make insurance more secure.”

“You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, and not just what you're against,” Obama said. This drew applause from the friendly crowd, of course, but opponents of Obamacare have produced alternatives.

Recall that during a health care summit in February 2010, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., explained many of his concerns to the president about how the law would bust the budget. He suggested alternatives — which he continued to do as the Republican nominee for vice president last year. Obama dismissed them. Fellow Democrats did the same in crafting and ultimately approving the Affordable Care Act without a single Republican vote in favor.

The National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonprofit, reminded media outlets last week that it has offered an alternative to Obamacare. The NCPA says its plan allows protection for those with pre-existing conditions, provides access to health care for all Americans, and would work “mainly because the role of government is confined to a few simple rules while individual choice and the marketplace do the heavy lifting.” It's been discussed on mostly conservative news programs, which no doubt discounts it in the eyes of the president.

Bringing alternatives would allow for “a vigorous and meaningful debate,” Obama said. “That's what the American people deserve. That's what the times demand.” And yet the day before he said that, in another speech, Obama said: “We're not going back. You've got good ideas? Bring 'em to me. But we're not repealing it as long as I'm president.”

Obama asked that his opponents tell him what they're for, and not simply what they're against. It's safe to assume they're for a president who, every once in a while, comes up with an idea that isn't directly out of the book of liberal orthodoxy. His speech about income inequality repeated all the same tired lines he's been using since his first election — raising the minimum wage, giving unions more clout, expanding early childhood education, expanding the role of government in general.

Ever The Great Divider, the president said during his income inequality speech that the “defining challenge of our time” is ensuring that the U.S. economy “works for every working American.” A laudable goal, one his opponents might be for if he would ease up the relentless attack on fossil fuels while doing handstands for green energy. Obama is holding up the northern leg of the Keystone Pipeline due to environmental concerns. Yet last week the administration said it would allow wind power companies to kill or injure eagles for up to three decades without having to worry about prosecution.

Obama said the way forward should include “streamlining regulations that are outdated or unnecessary or too costly.” His opponents would be for that if the man calling for it wasn't head of an administration whose expanded regulations have been strangling business for five years. Obama said he wants to come together “around a responsible budget ... one that unwinds the harmful sequester cuts that haven't made a lot of sense.” Those who oppose the president would be for that, except that he always wants more government spending, never less, and the sequester was his idea.

Forging common ground requires a willingness to give. As long as Obama finds that dissatisfying, expect only more tired rhetoric.