February 24th, 2010
11:59 PM ET

The Blair House Health Summit: Missing Pat Moynihan

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David Gergen | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Political Analyst

It is easy to be sympathetic with President Obama’s attempt to revive health care reform by embarking on a big, new gamble this week. After all, he campaigned on health reform, has made it the signature issue of his presidency, and according to those around him in the White House, focuses on it almost to the point of obsession. Like many of his predecessors, Mr. Obama seems deeply moved by past health care struggles of a close family member – in this case, his mother.

So, the President deserves a significant measure of respect for trying to get reform across the goal line. He has already come closer than any of seven other presidents who have tried. Now he and his aides believe it imperative to give one last try.

But one should not underestimate the size of the gamble. The President and Democrats are already in political trouble for spending a full year on health reform and then hitting a wall. A more cautious president would have walked quietly away from the scene of the accident. Indeed, that’s what Mr. Obama appeared to be doing in his recent State of the Union, insisting that he now focus on jobs and not mentioning health care until he was a half hour into the speech.

But he was apparently itching to try again and when he had a bravura performance, with cameras rolling, as he paid a call on House Republicans in Baltimore, a light bulb went off in the White House: let’s have a “summit” at Blair House with Republicans and Democrats. If the President, they thought, can once again dazzle in debate with Republicans, that will light a new fire behind reform and maybe – just maybe – it will then pass.

So, Mr. Obama is doubling down on his bet. If he succeeds, he could not only revive health care but his presidency. If he fails, however, he will deliver a second body blow to himself and his party. And prospects for passage of a comprehensive bill are uncertain at best: while looking better in the Senate, the House could go either way. So this is a big gamble.

Hovering over Blair House is an even bigger question: Even if it were possible for Mr. Obama to succeed, is it wise? Given current conditions, would passage of his comprehensive bill be in the best interests of the country?

There is no right answer to those questions – much depends on what you think about the substance of the bill. But there is a deeper wisdom from the past that ought to be considered, too. It was taught to me back in the 1990s by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the brightest lights ever to serve in the U.S. Senate and a personal friend. Pat was then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I had just joined up with President Bill Clinton at the White House, and a titanic struggle was underway over the Clintons’ efforts to reform health care.

Moynihan, a Democrat, told me that there were two essential pre-requisites to passing major social reform in this country. The first, he said, was that landmark social legislation should be passed with significant, bipartisan support from both sides of the aisle – otherwise, there would always be trouble with it. He sent me the vote tallies to show how at least a half dozen or more Senators from the opposition party voted for big social initiatives stretching back to the New Deal – from Social Security in the 1930s the civil rights bills of the mid-60s and Medicare and Medicaid bundled together in 1965.

Secondly, he said, landmark social legislation should enjoy solid support from the public before it is passed. Again, history bears out his point. Presumably, the fact that major legislation enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress helped to build up majority support in the country.

It is sobering – and should give us pause – that the comprehensive health care bill now under debate meets neither test. In the House, only one Republican has voted in favor (and has since changed his mind) and not a single Republican in the Senate. People can argue till the cows come home about why. The point is that passage of this omnibus bill through the reconciliation process would be a strictly partisan affair – a sharp break from recent history.

Just as important, the public doesn’t want Washington to do this. Averaging up the results of ten major polls over the past month, Real Clear Politics finds that opinion is running 52-38 percent against passage of the Obama/Democratic plan. There has been some tightening of late in the Democrats’ favor, but the margin against is still the most negative in memory for major social legislation. Today, CNN released a new poll, just out of the field, showing that only 25 percent want Congress to pass this big bill, 48 percent want Congress to start over, and 25 percent want to stop working on health care. Those are important results.

It is possible that President Obama can turn opinion around in the Democrats’ favor through the Blair House summit. Again, one should accord the President great respect for trying. But if he is unable to win Republicans to his side AND if he is unable to win over the public, doesn’t that suggest that he should reconsider?

Should he not think again about the recommendation of his own chief of staff – to take a handful of the best ideas from Democrats and Republicans, weave them into a scaled down bill, and win passage of a bill that will be both bipartisan and enjoy the support of the country? Wouldn’t that be a good way to get started on serious health care reform so that we can also turn our attention back to jobs? I wish Pat Moynihan were at Blair House to whisper in the President’s ear.

Filed under: David Gergen • Health Care • Opinion
soundoff (186 Responses)
  1. Jane

    Thank you Mr. Gergen. Though conservative, I too was a Moynihan fan. Those "civil" civil servants and many of the great minds in the Senate seem to have retreated from fighting the good fight. You are being a bit too gracious in your offerings of respect when the level of disrespect for the wishes and fears of most of the country on the issue is so powerful. The President's chief of staff is meaner than Lee Atwater and James Carvill combined. Throw some Nancy and Harry in the mix with some Barbara Boxer and Maxine Waters on the side. Top it with some Chuck Schumer et. al....it's just too much to preach the sermon when those are the folks doing your bidding. No good can come from this. Karma is a powerful thing.

    February 25, 2010 at 5:38 am |
  2. Mike Warner

    The United States needs to join the rest of the industrialized world and provide health care to all Americans. The Republicans are in the pockets of big business, more so than ever before.

    February 25, 2010 at 5:33 am |
  3. George E. Burrows

    If so many people (58-32%) are against the health care bills before congress, why are the members of congress even considering these bills. Aren't they supposed to represent "The People"? And clearly the people don't want what they are being given. Why do members of congress continue to disregard what the people want? Why don't they work on what we want and not what they want, to the total dismissal of our wishes? It just is another example of the "I'm in congress, I'm smarter than you are, and I know what is good for you" attitude congress projects.

    February 25, 2010 at 5:15 am |
  4. Brandon

    What elements would be in this scaled down bill, might I ask? These reforms must happen in tandem in order for any kind of health overhaul to work. I have heard this argument that a scaled down phased approach should be taken (countless times), but with even the most pedestrian overview of the issues involved, one can see that this is not really a possibility. It perplexes me that this argument is still considered. If you have a plan, about how this option could work, It would be wonderful to see the recommendation of a scaled down bill ALONG WITH a high level proposal of exactly what that means.

    February 25, 2010 at 4:33 am |
  5. Steve in Marietta

    I firmly believe that the health care that a modern industrial nation provides its citizens is a measure of its morals. Clearly, the US, and especially the GOP with insurance company money, has shown that morality is lacking.

    I predict that nothing significan will happen on health care reform until the whole system collapses, getting the populace to realize that it is a genuine problem that requires action.

    February 25, 2010 at 4:29 am |
  6. John K

    Republicans are not interested in passing any Health Reform. They want to stop Obama's agenda and blame the Democrats for not passing anything. They only care about themselves and winning the Mid term elections. They have long ago abandoned the American people. It is pure politics. They are the party of NO,NO and more NO until such time as they return to power and ram their agenda through the House and Congress. There is nothing anyone could whisper in Obama's ear since the Republicans are only interested in cutting it off....

    February 25, 2010 at 4:28 am |
  7. Leo, Charlottesville, VA

    David evidently didn't hear Obama's State of the Union. When he writes that "a more cautious president would have walked away," he forgets that Obama emphatically said: "I will not walk away from these people" (i.e., the uninsured). Obama wins on character; so does Reid; both will win in their next election outings.

    February 25, 2010 at 4:23 am |
  8. Albert Torcaso

    Mr. Gergen, I must disagree with your assessment and say to the President and Congress there are far too many Americans suffering from no access to health care or who are under insured.
    This, Congress, must pass health care reform now be it through reconciliation or be it through a bipartisan vote pass this bill.
    ( Health Care Reform.)

    While members of Congress debate the issue millions of Americans suffer and many die from lack of access to health care. Nearly 45,000 Americans die each year from no access to health care( source: Harvard University.)
    The President is doing the right thing and in fact if this bill is passed democrats in the Senate and House will do better in this year's elections than the polls indicate once the American people see what the bill does for them in their everyday lives.
    The reason the poll numbers reflect a large disapproval of the bill is because the President & the democrats have not done a good job on the public relations front. Another factor is that those who oppose this bill have spent more money on their public relations campaign and have many Americans afraid of this bill when in reality it will affect them in a positive way.

    The President needs to keep the pressure on Congress and do a better public relation's job on the great points of this current bill.

    Get it done as lives matter.

    Albert Torcaso
    The time to act for justice, fairness, and what is right is now, and we must not ever retreat in these duties.

    Albert Torcaso

    Sometimes standing up for one makes you a leader of many.

    February 25, 2010 at 4:21 am |
  9. jeremy

    David you are wrong look what happed Clinton did not get the bill and 16 years have passed with billions of extra debt and millions uninsured. The world is a different place people are against it based on miss information. Once it is passed and they see benefits public opinion will change.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:52 am |
  10. Rodney

    With all due respect to Mr. Gergen and his words. The Republicans used reconciliation to pass Mr Bush's tax bills in 2001 and 2003. They are hypocrites, Mr Cantor was quoted saying that "reconciliation shuold always be used to pass legislation". The Republicans will never support any legislation Mr Obama presents. Mr Brown who earlier was the poster boy for their party is now being attacked by their party. They don't want to see healthcare reform period.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:20 am |
  11. Xavier Baudet

    Dear Mr Gergen, Great speach. But should a President pay so much attention to the polls? You refer to bipartisan support for every major social initiative since FDR.
    Let us sit down for a while and consider the facts:

    The only official poll is the one held on electionday. And that gives Obama and his party a huge majority in all three houses. Why would you let a small minority dictate you to keep from doing what a huge majority of americans want?

    Secondly, do you seriously believe the Republican party is ever going to support anything Obama proposes?
    They too have an election coming up and they already know their strategy works from what happened in Masschusetts. Since the Republicans will never support him anyway the only point in getting him to make compromises is stir up his base against him.

    Obama has to keep his back straight. And he has to be clear: What he want is The Right Thing and what the Republicans want is wrong. Further more people always have their doubts about leftwingers as being soft and unrealistic (and `wafflers') Republicans on the contrary are supposedly `tough' and straightforward. Obviously it's political dogmatism that gets rewarded. Obama has to act like a Republican in this issue and not compromise on the things he truly believes in. In other words: reconciliation. The filibuster system legitimizes such a procedure.

    PS: if Obama's presidency fails it shows that America is becoming increasingly ungovernable and worse it would be another landmark in the decline of the West: Given the fact that the rest of the world will only support a liberal president, it means America undermines itself if it only supports conservatives...

    February 25, 2010 at 3:19 am |
  12. EdOnyash

    Dave Great article. As long as people in you country keep on spending alot on healthcare I tell you it will be difficult for them to save and put some of their earnings to tuition, business, and stock investment. One thing you need to realise here, a family is the unit of the society. If the families are finding it difficult to take care of their basic necessities. Don't expect any government to take care of its citizens. This cool guy spent some time campaigning and did put these facts accross. Opinion polls matters not. 58-38% againist passage? hmm leaves a lot to be desired. He said one thing: even if the public doesnt disagree with him, like your stats are portraying he said he will tell it to the citizens and I bet this is the disconect that he is trying to put across and I hope the citizens of your country will listen.
    Whether it will determine his presidency or not at least sir President will have tried. The ball is on blair house court and the sturbon politicians who distort facts, Repubs, Democrats, Indipendents, liberts, and others and wait to take over control of the 3 houses and pull strings in their favor. Enrich themselves while others suffer and die. I hope the president's effort will be listened to. All the best America.
    Concerned future student of your country from Afrika.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:12 am |
  13. Regina Harwood

    David, I always appreciate your learned commentary. However, I think the divide in congress today is unprecedented and therefore I celebrate Obama's renewed energy. Frankly, I am fed up with the Republicans. Their sole intent to me is to roadblock any effort for any leglislation simply because they are not in power. I'm not too happy with the divide among Democrats either.

    When will our elected officials stop focusing on reelection and represent the people? We are DESPERATE for reasonable and affordable healthcare and jobs. Enough talk. Let's have some action or I fear our country will fall off the precipice. This is serious and real, not conjecture.

    February 25, 2010 at 3:02 am |
  14. Desiree Bernard

    The present day insanity of the Republican party and their angry, vicious lying and obstructionism leaves us in a new and different situation. In the past, bipartisanship was a process of respectful back and forth. The president's plan (including the public option), enjoyed a solid majority support, until August came around, and the wackos on the far- far right started spinning their outrageous propaganda around the nation and people started to buy into the lies. Obama has said this himself many times, spoke about the cynicism embedded in the lying and misrepresentation, said it to the Republicans directly, but it doesn't stop the cynical political strategy of deception, fear-mongering and obstructionism of the right.

    We have never seen times like these in America. Therefore, the old wisdom of Moynihan is not necessarily applicable in the current situation. The president needs to move us forward. The Republicans are stuck in their small-mindedness. I think we must be willing to work around them.

    February 25, 2010 at 2:58 am |
  15. Paulie

    (Shakes the magic 8 -Ball) what I get is "Seems Very Unlikely" especially given Obama's popularity is low, jobs are still scarce and people are hopping mad that he is still trying to push this same healthcare bill on people – the one that criminalizes not carrying health insurance from the same private companies that are supposedly gouging us. Obama has an attention span and arrogance problem and he isnt going to magically morph into someone else overnight. If you have ever been in show business you would know 'the crowd can always spot a phony" and thats whats up.

    February 25, 2010 at 2:56 am |
  16. Scott Clark

    Mr. Gergen is always well spoken (written). One step at a time, one day at a time. If I could encourage my President directly, I would say that in the absence of success with this summit, take your Chief of Staff's advice. At least lay a new foundation, even if we can't immediately build as large as some would hope for.

    February 25, 2010 at 2:44 am |
  17. Ernie Punzalan

    The President earned my respect for his effort to have " Health Care
    Reform' although I am with David Gergen that it is a big gamble politically on his part because human nature usually takes the
    easier side.

    However, based on my experiences during my employment
    years, health coverage from O to +$300/Mo. cost sharing with my
    employers. Most cost increases happened during the last few year
    which eventually would be beyonds anybodys means.

    I hope the President would use all the strenght of the office to get
    the reform thru congress & senate.

    February 25, 2010 at 2:31 am |
  18. Darin E. Taylor

    You have to see this thing through to the end yourself. You will not be able to count on congress alone. Your own party has turned on you, just to save their asses. Unless you have a magic legal silver bullet for the filibuster. You may have to give up important items in the bill, just to get it through. It may not be what you want, but it is what our country needs. May be you should threaten to have a live debate with your own party and call them out on some of the bs in the bill that's giving the Repub's so much annunition(kidding). In any case, short of verbally whipping both parties for their misdeeds on CSPAN. Your going have to go it alone, with prayers and the historical advise that you had before you got here.

    Remember: It is never wrong to show your anger for the right reasons. D. Taylor

    February 25, 2010 at 2:15 am |
  19. triston one

    the whole world is laughing at the mighest country in the world's effort to get a simple HEALTH CARE BILL passed ; but with so much bitterness and hate that one wonders if the democratic system in American is ever to work on unpolular issues . The rest of the world has good social health care benefits for its people without costing literally an arm or a leg. Many Americans are flying abroad to get great health care services a a fraction of the price. All the politicans against social health care benefits are only in to protect their own jobs without ever thinking about the 40 million uninsured American. Arm chair pundits are loggiests who are paid to say the wrong things –it is their job to make sure the bill is not passed . America–the world is laughing and in no time USA will be a third world country with third world health care.

    February 25, 2010 at 2:13 am |
  20. Michael Grana

    Ive owned Toyotas since i was 16 years old im now 50,Ive tryed with all my heart to help Toyota, Ive been in the field of Mechanics most of my life, Ive tryed to tell them theres a problem with even the cables that are causing acc,probs since 1996 on Lexas engines, both deals by my house, they have blown me off, they are aware of what the hells going on, Ive have comutor data, to prove my point, each dealership blew me off, for GODS sake i know im rite an can save lifes, please get ahold of Toyota, and our goverment, Im not getting to the people i need to share this with. Thank you for a chance to help, thank you again, MICHAEL GRANA

    February 25, 2010 at 2:08 am |
  21. Lorie

    I agree 100 percent, but yet all these months that we have been trying to convey that, we were called racists, right winged fringe, and astroturfers among other disgusting things! There is a need for healthcare reform, but for once we would like to see the government do something right, not half a$$ed. It would be nice for them to do something fiscally responsible too. So what is wrong with scaling it down, taking out all the unnecessary “pork” and making that a starting point for the “change” all Americans want! Not a hunk of junk the Democrats want to shove down our throats.

    February 25, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  22. Bart Gill

    I met Daniel Patrick Moynihan once, he was argogant and condecending, unlike Mr. Gergan. President Regan changed the course of the ship of state, President Obama is attempting change the course. This Century is differant than the last, we need change we can belive in.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:54 am |
  23. Sean Dunn

    I have deep respect for you as well, Mr. Gergen, but I wonder what Pat Moynihan would do with leadership like McConnell, Steele and team. The filibuster has never been so abused. The deliberate attempt to destroy another administration has never been so overt. When Americans are polled about details of the health care plan they are for it but they have been convinced by the party of "no" that it is bad for them.

    These are strange times in American politics and I sincerely wonder if history is the best barometer. I too wish Pat Moynihan were going to be there tomorrow, along with Alan Simpson and Bob Dole.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:49 am |
  24. Dr. Virginia Lubell

    In NO polls has there been a distinction between those who oppose this bill because it doesn't go far enough from those who oppose it because they think it's about big government!

    There are many of us who know there are 4 types of health care in the US: VA/Indian health system; Medicare/Medicaid; Insurance and out-of-pocket.

    We just need to decide on one.

    There is a huge difference between our Social Democracies and Socialism. Our constitution is based on 'We The People' as the foundation of our Social Democracy. Our constitution is not based on 'I The Person' or 'We The Corporation'.

    The US is the only developed country that has permitted its health care system be for-profit.

    Why cut taxes to our governments agencies and reduce our collective shared benefits when we could take all the money we pay insurance and give it to our government to distribute health services? Do you really want to pay private taxation (affectionately called User Pay) to mega-multinationals that go to support CEO salaries and shareholder profits? This isn't capitalism, its Corporatism.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:48 am |
  25. preston

    YAY another opportunity for politicians to make money. I wonder what kind of gifts they'll get this time in exchange for their vote?

    Its impossible to please every single American. Make a decision and go with it. If we piss someone off they will adapt to their new life style and life will go on. Its not the end of the world. Either they will be better off or no worse off than they currently are.

    If a decision is made and something about the plan doesnt work, we can always adjust it. Lets do this!

    February 25, 2010 at 1:43 am |
  26. Vito

    Mr. Gergen,

    I know it's easy to forget given the last few decades of nonstop campaigning and political games - but sometimes you have to do what's right for your country rather than what's right for your poll numbers. This is one of those times and bravo to President Obama for his courage.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:25 am |
  27. chad

    are you...stupid?

    In order to show that you have to have votes which appear bipartisan and sweeping poll numbers for social reform to work on a top down basis, you have to show times when social reform did NOT work under the terms you now call partisan.

    The majority of people want healthcare reform. The republicans have made a major bid to defeat this act BECAUSE they want the president to lose political points. The republicans have said this openly from the beginning.

    Again, the majority of people want healthcare reform. The poll you tout to say the president should slow down says to me that 25 percent of people don't want it. That's not a lot.

    Look, the republicans have contributed to this. Their ideas, what few of them are workable, have been incorporated. STILL after that the democrats watered it down again and again to make it more palatable to the right, and still the republicans said "not on my watch". This tells me that for the republicans voting against this is a personal, not a policy decision.

    Stop crushing up your happy pills and spewing propaganda like nobody can smell it.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:24 am |
  28. Mike from Lake Dallas

    I don't care if you are a Democrat or a Republican. Health Care in the USA is a broken system.

    It's true we have the best hospitals. Kings have flown to the US to have operations.

    But for 47 million Americans who don't have insurance that is just a travesty.

    What it is also disturbing is the ones who do have health insurance will find that various medical procedures are not covered.

    Medicine is more expensive here.

    I've seen veterans denied medicine. I've seen members in my own family suffer cause they couldn't afford medicine.

    Everyone has been an honest, hardworking taxpayer. I know I'm not on the fringe. If I've seen this then I know a lot of others have. I'm relatively young...my health is good..Thank God. But I know if I get cancer..lose my job...I'm done. 66% of all bankruptcies are due to medical reasons.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:20 am |
  29. John

    No, it is not easy to be sympathetic with Obama trying to restart healthcare.


    Insurance companies are the PROBLEM. Not the SOLUTION.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:17 am |
  30. Rahul

    David -

    As a native New Yorker, I miss Pat Moynihan too – but there are at least three problems with this:

    1. By many accounts, both the House and the Senate are more polarized now than they have been at any time in the last century. Moreover, the Republican party has decided that, as a matter of political strategy, it's going to block the President's agenda at all costs. I don't think this tactical decision by the Republican leadership necessarily reflects the level of 'intellectual' support that health reform has among many moderate Republicans.

    2. There are going to be problems with massive social legislation whether it's bipartisan or not. Take Medicare. Whether it's adding a prescription drug benefit or privatizing parts of the program as Bush did, we can expect that subsequent administrations will leave their own mark on the program, regardless of what the original vote count was.

    3. Public opinion may have swung against the Democratic bill as a whole - but when you look at polls on the individual components of health care reform, it's clear that the public still supports the policies that the bill contains - and by large margins. In terms of the long term viability of this project, which is what you seem to be concerned about, this is as good a sign as one could expect.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:14 am |
  31. Randy Buist

    Perhaps the question should not be, "Is it good for the democrats to move forward with heath care reform?" The question should be, "Is it good for the country?"

    President Obama is challenging the entire health care establishment with the idea of reforming health care. Of course, it is a political risk. Thankfully, he has the courage to try something that could be good for our country.

    While Americans are not in favor of a major overhaul, I wonder if there has ever been a time in our history when we've been such a selfish people? We often think of ourselves as a 'Christian' nation, and yet we think entirely of ourselves when we consider health care reform. Perhaps it is time to start asking, "What is best for my neighbor?"

    February 25, 2010 at 1:11 am |
  32. Bob

    David, I agree with you. Absolutely great points. The hard-core Obamabots will argue that this is what Obama got elected for, but it simply wasn't. Many votes were simply anti-Republican, and in any case we have to look at what is going on NOW. I'm right there with the 50%...start over and get something smaller that both sides (and the American people) can all get behind. It's a start.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:05 am |
  33. Matt

    As usual, David Gergen is a moderate voice. A voice of common sense. I think the administration would do well to listen to what he has to say.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:04 am |
  34. BrianBkyn

    If not now, when? When our children are adults? It has to start here. It has to start now.

    February 25, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  35. chris

    Health care is a personal responsibility, not the Governments. If they want to mess with the best health care system in the world, then do it by fixing the issues between state to state coverage and the medical malpractice cases that drive costs up. Might also want to look into doing something about the FREE care that illegal aliens get every year and do something about that. Nationalized health care has been a failure everywhere else by making doctor's visits more tedious, quality of doctors to go down and restricts techological advances. If it is so great, like in Canada supposedly, then why did their Premier fly to Miami to have surgery? Because we have the best care offered anywhere in the world without question.

    They screw up everything – social security, the tax system, economy (forcing banks to give the bad loans), trying to fix/stimulate the economy, and quite possibly capitalism too . So do you really want this collective group to be responsible for health care?

    February 25, 2010 at 1:01 am |
  36. Bob Pacific Grove, Ca

    Gergen's assumption that Moynihan would even recognize the republican party of today is more than just a stretch.....The majority of Americans overwhelmingly want health care reform......The devil is always in the details, but lets be clear. There is only one party in Congress that wants reform, and the other doesn't. Its that simple....

    February 25, 2010 at 12:59 am |
  37. J.V.Hodgson

    As usual David makes some valid points. However, I suggest that in fact there is people support for Obama's effort and that a " reconciled" House and Senate bill ( without Nebraska and other pork as planned) and Incorporating some of the Republicans major suggestions like Liability caps and cross state competition for private insures, maybe a compromise on the abortion wording ( House and Senate). And an undertaking to review the ability to get cheaper prescription medications, and fee structure in hospitals via a bipartisan committee nominated in these meetings, gets you to a people approved plan ( POLL??) that in fact:-
    a) Does not increase the deficit, CBO analyses.
    b) Allows 31-45m Americans to have health insurance that do not now.. these people are voters and were 17% of voters. Republican ideas have a lot to answer to here.
    c) The simple idea that private only is best has just been proved flawed by the private insures themselves asking for between 20 -56% premium increases. My god how can they justify that when the economy is tanking, inflation is extremely low, and people cannot afford the new rates... It's simple they simply cannot take a profit reduction despite fewer policy holders, because fewer can afford the cost!!
    d) Democrats said this is exactly what would happen huge rate increases but they were talking 8-10 % and look where it landed!!
    Keep this up and you wont have 31-45m uninsured ( that's Immoral) it will be 80 to 100m and thats a crime against a so called governmment of the people for the people and by the people.
    Gridlock and total ideology Republican or Democrat is what stinks not " affordable for all health care."
    Put the above ideas as a pre-amble to your poll questions and watch 80 % of the nation support affordable health care.
    There is a lot less risk to Obama's idea and plan than you in the media suggest, because I as one voter like millions of other American voters believe we should not see the past 12 months of debate as wasted ( 161 Republican amendments I'm told incorporated) but reality and fairness and compromise prevail as oppoed to pure Ideology.
    Start over again is nonsense. Republicans had 8 years in power to start over again and have no intention of so doing as they see nothing wrong with satus quo as "only 31M Americans are uninsured. that is SICK, thanks Mr. Moore!!

    February 25, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  38. Kim J

    David I have alway enjoyed your take going back to the days of PBS... and still know that you are the coolest cucumber in the house. I am actually in thje minority, I voted for change and I am still looking for that but have been denied it due to those in congress. I remember that Pres. Obama won with the majority vote, yet it still feels as though we are not recognizing that victory, why is that? We voted in a new Pres and Congress but act as though it is still 2008.

    My reason for wanting change is simple economics. You can't control this countries debt without controling the 20% hole in our pockets due to healthcare and projected to be 25% soon. With 80 Million retires collecting social security at an average of $15,000 annually we will be occuring 1 Trillion debt per year and that will be peanuts relative to their health needs. We need real reform from this Pres. and NOT congressional lip service paid for by BIG business unless that same BIG business whants to subsidizes our economy.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  39. John from boston

    Excellent column. I agree – the lack of support for this bill make it highly dangerous and ill-advised for the democrats. And if they resort to reconciliation to push through a bill a majority don't want, it will only intensify the backlash.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  40. Greg T

    Very well spoken as usual...we dont want it!

    February 25, 2010 at 12:39 am |
  41. Stuart Riley, Texas


    I think your assessment is well reasoned and true – for the past. But for anyone to assume the past will always define future events is a bit short-sighted.

    As you say, there's a big risk for Obama, because these circumstances don't meet the Moynihan test, and he feels the need to define a new set of standards to get the job done.

    But, we are faced with an unreasoned, implacable force, called the Republicans, who won't negotiate for any reason.

    Then, we have this same group spreading complete lies and distortions that have totally confused the general public. Remember "death panels"? Remember "they'll cut medicare" (only to now offer that up as a means to cut the budget)?

    You knew Moynihan. What would you think he'd make of this mess the Republicans have caused?

    One final thought. Why couldn't the other administrations ever get reform through? Could it be that the obstacles will never change?

    Perhaps it IS time for a new way to work in Washington. Perhaps we shouldn't worry so much about the risks of not meeting Moynihan's test, and find a new way to get the job done.

    If it means shaming these numb-skulls into negotiating in good faith, then so be it.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  42. Paul

    The American people have told Obama to focus on jobs and control spending. He continues to refuse to do his job.

    Medicare and Social Security are broken and unfunded. We just can't afford another trillion dollar government social program.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  43. paksa

    A very insightful article that precisely describes the controversy that has kept the American people in limbo for most of this past year. More tragic still, is the fact that the obsession of this administration with something of this magnitude, that is not bi-partisan, not wanted by the people – tragic in the sense that the economy continues to spiral into an uncharted and dire abyss and people continue to worry more and more about the future – and yet this administration seems to heedlessly want to 'win again' at all costs. Our country is facing monumental problems and people are worried and more divided as a nation than any time in recent decades. A 'whisper into the Presidents ear' by Moynihan would be to no avail, it seems. And the clamor of the people will just get louder and louder...... BUT when will they be heard?????

    February 25, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  44. James Rutledge

    If Obama wants to guarantee defeat for the Demos for the next 3 elections, then he should try to force this monstrosity through. He could get most of what he wants by starting over and getting the Republicans fully involved. He would also look like a president of the people doing what the people want instead of a dictator.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  45. Max Leygrume

    THERE! Gergen just said it! The American people OVERWHELMINGLY
    Do Not want this monstrosity .

    The Repubs aren't being obstructionists.... it's those darn American citizens. All the repubs are doing is choosing NOT to commit politcal suicide.

    Obama on the other hand appears to be a full fledged kamikaze. His plane is on fire (a fire he started) , it's in a highspeed nosedive and obama's keeping the throttle pinned – and asking democrats if they'd like a ride!!!!!

    Note to obama: The American people , collectively , are THE most powerful force on the face of this planet . Nothing else compares to our power. America is about to introduce obama to the back of their hand. It's gonna hurt...

    February 25, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  46. Aq

    Even with my strong support to Obama's health care reform , this article from David Gergen points out the true reality and recommendations that our president needs to seriously. This reform needs to happen as a two step approach: taking ideas from both the parties and implementing them, even if were half of what was planned. That will be a sure success. I really hope someone listens to David Gergen's well thought out fair and balanced thinking, unlike Fox news' so called "fair & balaned" approach. CNN needs to focus more on articles like these rather than posting some left/right wing nuts opinions.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:17 am |
  47. Hawk in Texas

    Pass health care reform any way that you can. i do not know where these people are getting their information on the polls but from what i see and hear almost every one wants this bill passed with or without the republicans, all the republicans have done is stall at every encounter. they have never wanted this from the word go. they are bought and paid for by the insurance companys. they will never vote for health care reform in any way.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:13 am |
  48. DonP

    The important issues are elimination of the pre-existing condition discrimination by insurance companies and lack of competititon among insurance companies (partly because of the interstate exemption, which should in any event be barred legislatively). The current bill is so complex that responses to the polls are poorly informed.

    February 25, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  49. David from CA

    Mr. Gergen,

    As usual you make a lot of sense, and have a lot of substance included in your argument. However, I sure hope you are wrong on this one. There are a number of factors that make this situation very different from what has happened in the past. First, in the old days there were liberal and moderate Republicans in the Northeast and conservative Democrats in the South. (An oversimplification, I know.) Those people would now be rearranged with regard to party affiliation. The fights would have occurred back then are now largely going on within the Democratic party. Second, I don't know what public support really means anymore when it is possible to have so much data from so many sources, with the meaning so internally inconsistent. And, there is the complication of the economy. It may be that, if all of this were to get done, things could turn around. (But, it may be that I am whistling in the dark at this point. I really would like something positive to happen.)

    February 24, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
  50. jim warrick

    It is Obama's uncontrolled ego that causes him to think he can charm his way out of anything. While I am for health care reform... not now in the currrent economic meltdown, and certainly not anything this expensive. I find it sad that he just can't learn from experience, but as a longtime resident of Illinois I can say from personal observation that he was elected to the presidency without any having experience.

    February 24, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
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