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When Barack Obama pilfered Martin Luther King Jr.’s line about the “fierce urgency of now,” he wasn’t kidding. The line has come to define his presidency. His legislative strategy moves in two gears — heedlessly fast and recklessly faster.
As with the stimulus package, Obama’s health-care plan depends on speed. More important than any given provision, more important than any principle, more important than sound legislating is the urgent imperative to Do It Now.
Do it now, before anyone can grasp what exactly it is that Congress is passing. Do it now, before the overpromising and the dishonest justifications can be exposed. Do it now, before Obama’s poll numbers return to Earth and make it impossible to slam through ramshackle government programs concocted on the run. Do it now, because simply growing government is more important than the practicalities of any new program.
The stimulus partly drives the rush on health care. The program was so ill-considered and so festooned with irrelevant liberal priorities as the price of hustling it through Congress that it becomes more of a drag for Obama every day. So health care has to be rushed through before Obama pays the full price for the failure of his previous rush job. Haste — and waste — makes for more haste.
Obama cultivated an image of cool during the campaign. Unrattled. Deliberate. Cerebral to a fault. Who knew he’d be in a panic to remake one-sixth of the economy by the first week of August of his first year in office?
Normally, the larger and more complicated a bill is, the longer Congress takes to consider it. With the stimulus and cap-and-trade, Obama and the Democrats upended this rule of thumb by passing byzantine, 1,000-page bills that no one had the time to read. When the work product is indefensible, deliberation is dangerous.
There’s a touch of the guilty conscience about Obama’s terrible rush. As if he knows he was elected as a moderate-sounding deficit hawk last year, and if he’s going to pass an ambitious left-wing program, he must do it before the opposition builds.
Why else the mad dash? Obama noted in an interview with ABC News the other day that his health program won’t be phased in until 2013. That’s four years from now. The problem that Obama describes of rising health-care costs bankrupting the government is also a long-term issue, one that needn’t be addressed in pell-mell fashion over the next two weeks.
But the longer Obama’s health-care program marinates in the sun, the worse it smells. Obama’s signature line that anyone who likes his current coverage gets to keep it has been shown to be untrue in recent weeks. His rationale of passing a $1 trillion program to reduce costs is undermined every time the Congressional Budget Office analyzes a real Democratic proposal. No wonder Obama wants to close down the debate before his rating on health care — down to 49 percent in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll — drops any farther.
Ramming through legislation without any assurance that it will work doesn’t seem pragmatic or farsighted. But for Obama’s purposes, it is. His goal is nothing short of an ideological reorientation of American government. Putting in place the structures to achieve this change in the power and role of government is more important than how precisely it is accomplished.
The stimulus might not do much to stimulate the economy during the recession, but its massive spending creates a new baseline for all future spending. The cap-and-trade bill might not reduce carbon emissions during the next decade, but it creates a mechanism for exerting government control over a huge swath of the economy. Obamacare might not work as advertised, but it will tip more people into government care and create the predicate for rationing and price controls.
Barack Obama is an ideologue in a hurry. He wants to put American government on a radically different path. And he wants to Do It Now.