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Needless Compromise Gives Obama a Headache

President Obama is getting a tough lesson in the evils of pre-emptive compromise.

Last week, his tax-cut compromise with Republicans was blasted from every direction. As usual, he had agreed to all of the Republicans’ key demands before negotiations even started.

His pre-emptive compromise agreed to extra tax cuts  for billionaires, including lower estate taxes. That broke one of his campaign promises and enraged most Democrats. In order to benefit people who already have billions of dollars, it would both increase the government’s budget deficit and worsen inequality in America. Deficits are now the highest they’ve ever been. Inequality is the highest it’s been since 1928.

Obama tried to sweeten the compromise by insisting on a few good things, such as extended unemployment benefits and tax cuts for people making under $200,000 a year ($250,000 for families). That enraged Senate Republicans, who think that the non-rich should just go ahead and die already.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell: "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Health Care Reform Compromise Backfires

Yesterday, another pre-emptive compromise backfired on the president.

To smooth passage of health care reform, President Obama agreed with Republicans to give up demands for a public health insurance program, single-payer, or “Medicare for everyone.” Any of those would have put pressure on insurance companies to treat their customers fairly. If people didn’t like how their private health insurance company treated them, then they could enroll in the government plan. So that was unacceptable.

But the only way to make a Republican-friendly health care reform work was to incorporate Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch’s 1993 proposal that required everyone to buy health insurance. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had signed that same requirement into law as governor of Massachusetts. Without it, healthy people would wait until they got sick to buy insurance, so the system would quickly go bankrupt.

So the health care reform bill contained the Republican idea of an “individual mandate” for all Americans to buy health insurance, while providing assistance and exceptions for the poor.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney: Still too creepy for words. Photo: AP.

Now, that pre-emptive compromise has come back to bite Obama. And us.

Republicans are screaming about how oppressive the individual mandate is, hoping that most people won’t know it was their idea in the first place. A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional.

The court ruling wasn’t unexpected, since the judge is a Republican appointed by the Bush-Cheney administration. However, the entire health care reform is now in danger because the next stop is the U.S. Supreme Court. Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court is controlled by Republicans who have not been shy about ignoring precedents to make political rulings such as Citizens United, which allows corporations to buy elections. They will try very hard to destroy the parts of health care reform that benefit most Americans.

The Real Lesson

The real lesson is that when you know what’s right, you should do it. Compromise only on points that really should be negotiable.

And don’t, like President Obama, give up all your important principles before negotiations even start.

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

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