No, Joe, It Just Isn’€™t So: Obama and McCain Debate Health Care Reform


Early in the third 2008 Presidential debate, John McCain introduced Joe, an Ohio plumber who wanted to buy the business in which he had worked for many years. He was supposed to become the poster child for all that was wrong about Obama’€™s policies. But on health care reform, Joe became a poster child for the sad fact that John McCain doesn’€™t appear to listen to what anyone except his advisers and supporters are saying.Barack Obama began by giving a very clear description of what he was proposing and what he thought his plan would accomplish. John McCain responded by harping on the supposed “fact” that employers like Joe would be forced to subscribe to Obama’s government dominated program or pay a financial penalty the amount of which was undisclosed.

Obama repeatedly tried to explain that if Joe was a small businessman he would be exempt from the requirement that he provide health insurance to his employees. If he became a large, wealthy employer, then he was free to provide employer sponsored health insurance of his choice. Only if he were a large employer who chose not to provide health insurance would he have to pay into a pool to support health insurance that would be made available to his employees. This, Obama pointed out, is only fair, because otherwise it is citizens and taxpayers who are left holding the bag for unfunded medical expenses. But Senator McCain seemed determined to stick to his guns because he obviously knows more about Obama’s plan than does Obama himself.

And so it went, from misrepresentation to misrepresentation.

On the other hand, Senator Obama appeared to understate the deficiencies of the McCain-Palin health reform package. He touched on the fact that the proposed termination of tax deductions for employers contributions to employee health benefits could result in as many as 20,000,000 workers losing their employer funded health insurance. He touched on the fact that the McCain-Palin proposal would remove state protections that purchasers of health insurance currently enjoy. He also touched on the difference between the $5,000 per family tax credit Senator McCain was offering and the $12,000 that family health insurance currently cost.

But Senator Obama failed to touch on the McCain-Palin promise that their tax credit would be budget neutral, which would require either $130,000,000 a year in additional revenue or $130,000,000 a year in service cuts. I don’t know why he didn’t cite the senior McCain policy advisor who told the Wall Street Journal that McCain “always planned to fund the tax credits, in part, with savings from Medicare and Medicaid,” federally funded programs that provide health care to seniors, poor families, and the disabled. Perhaps there just wasn’t time to tell Joe what McCain really had in store for him.

As the debate progressed, it became clear that Barack Obama had coherent policies and a vision of America’s future, for Joe and for all the rest of us. In contrast, Senator McCain seemed to wander, trying desperately to turn Obama into something Obama clearly was not.

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