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Obama Hires 'Harry and Louise' to Attack Hillary's Plan for Health Care: Republicans Thrilled!

If Hillary becomes the Democratic nominee, the Obama campaign has just packaged an ad that could be used, essentially unedited, by the Republicans next fall.
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Here's a top contender for the most egregious political strategy of the current campaign season: the ObamacCampaign is now circulating a mailer that resuscitates the images of "Harry and Louise," the notorious stars of a political ad that was part of a $300 million campaign by the health insurance industry and others to bring down the Clinton administration's health reform proposal in 1993. The photograph of a middle-aged couple looking troubled as they pour over a pile of papers on their kitchen table adorns the first page of the Obama mailer -- but it looks like it could have been a screen shot taken from the original Harry and Louise piece.

But there's more. The accompanying copy in the mailer is nothing more than a list of untrue assertions and seemingly deliberate misrepresentations of Senator Clinton's positions on health care. It is simply false that Senator Clinton's plan would "force everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it." In fact, Senator Clinton's plan not only includes nearly twice the resources for health care tax credits as the Obama campaign but would cap premiums at a low share of a family's income, to ensure that everyone could afford to be in the system. And according to the Commonwealth Fund, the best way to maximize cost reductions in health care is to make it truly universal, with an individual requirement as part of the shared responsibility needed to make the whole system work.

Yet if Hillary becomes the Democratic nominee, the Obama campaign has just packaged an ad that could be used, essentially unedited, by the Republicans next fall. To make matters worse, Barack Obama's resuscitation of Harry and Louise ad also helps bolster the cause of those who, at all costs, oppose meaningful health reform.

I can only imagine a clutch of smart, experienced health care policy wonks, a few political advisers and Senator Obama trying to come up with a plan that would address the uninsured, the under-insured, the mind-numbing bureaucracy, the $2 trillion of costs now attributed to U.S medical care and the rest of problems that have led most people to understand that the system is in crisis.

You can almost hear the advocates for genuine reform telling the Senator that you can't fix the problems of the uninsured and bring costs under control without making sure that everybody was covered. And there were just two ways to go, the advisers probably pointed out: either a single-payer system, a la Canada, or individual requirements for every citizen to buy coverage. The latter approach, of course, would also need serious cost controls, big-time regulation of health insurance practices and subsidies to help low-income families. This is the direction that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards took.

Maybe Senator Obama got all of this. But then, one of the political advisers must have said something on the order of "No way. Single payer or individual requirements will never sell...Americans won't buy it." In fact, The New Republic explained that Obama advisers were concerned about "excessive ambition" and feared that a "mandate sounds scarier to the public, particularly middle-class voters."

While we can only speculate on Senator Obama's personal motivations, what is perfectly clear is that he ended up proposing a plan that would not require individual citizens to do anything and, according to many independent experts, would leave at least 15 million Americans out of the system. That means 15 million people out of the insurance pool, jacking up costs for the rest of us. It also means millions of people still crowding up the emergency rooms, getting care that, to them, is "free" but actually gets paid for by the rest of us through tax-based support to the hospitals and doctors who actually provide care to the uninsured.

Senator Obama is a very smart guy, and I would like to think that he wouldn't mind a re-do on this issue. But, of course, that is a no-no in American presidential politics. So, Obama is left in the extraordinary position of now having to defend a position that most progressives would never embrace -- in essence leaving large numbers of people without health care. And to top it off, he's now attacking universal health care and making a reincarnated Harry and Louise to do the dirty work. I suspect that many Democrats will simply see this as a desperate "go Republican" strategy that could have the unintended consequence of setting back the cause of universal health care.

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