Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Games Politicians Play


I don't know if Obama should scold the person who stuck the birth control provision into the stimulus bill, or thank them. The scolding should follow from the fact that this was supposed to be a pork-free, non-political bill that could pass with broad bipartisan approval. The birth control provision gave right-wing Republicans a talking point - they could point to it and say "What does birth control have to do with stimulation."

And that brings us to the possible "Thank you." Other than being fodder for an easy one-liner, Republican opposition has been unprincipled and dishonest. The fact is, the provision is good public policy and is consistent with the Medicare policies of a number of Republican governors. It would have saved those governors a ton of money and unnecessary hassle in obtaining waivers so that they could offer birth control benefits through Medicaid. And when the provision was dropped, the Republican answer was still "no" - giving Obama the opportunity to... do this:
“We’re not going to get 100 percent agreement, and we might not even get 50 percent agreement, but I do think people appreciate me walking them through my thought process,” the president said, as he left a meeting with GOP senators just off the Senate floor.

“I hope I communicated a sincere desire to get good ideas from everybody,” he added. “My attitude is this the first major piece of legislation we’ve worked on, and that, over time, some of these habits of consultation and mutual respect will take over, but old habits die hard.”
The shoe is on the other foot. The Republicans were ignoring public policy in favor of a talking point, leaving Democrats to explain why the birth control provision belongs in a stimulus package and makes good sense. Now the talking point is gone and the Republicans are left to sputter things like "We need more tax cuts" or "It's unfocused... not that we have any better ideas".

Obama was placed in an awkward position by the legislators who stuck the birth control provision into the stimulus bill. That measure was inconsistent with his stated goals for the bill. But to ask for its removal opened him up to attacks from the left, accusations that he's selling out women's health. While it's standard Washington fare to stick appropriations like this into "must pass" legislation, this really wasn't the time. I hope that Democratic party leaders have a bit of a sit-down after this, to discuss how they might avoid shooting the President and themselves in the foot over the next two years. Meanwhile, they should work to get a similar appropriation passed through, perhaps, a bill directing some aid or assistance to the states or updating Medicaid rules.

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