President Barack Obama has told Americans to be skeptical of reports of an end to the recession, saying the downturn has “many more months” to run. Given the recent retail sales data, Americans seem to be listening to their economist-in-chief.
Obama may well be right in his dour forecast. Whatever the next quarter or two of GDP numbers say, continuing high unemployment and depleted personal wealth should keep the vibe more recessionary than expansionary. It’s tough to be cheerleader-in-chief, after all, when people’s pocketbooks are telling them a starkly different story.
But another issue is exacerbating Americans’ sour attitudes and raising doubts about the president’s competence: healthcare reform. Indeed, a recent Gallup poll shows identical pluralities of 49 percent disapproving of both Obama’s handling of the overall economy and his handling of healthcare policy.
Healthcare reform poses three problems for Obama. First, it seems to cost way too much in an era of trillion-dollar budget deficits. Americans are now as obsessed with budget deficits as they were in 1992, when fiscal concerns helped make Ross Perot a presidential contender. Second, many Americans are skittish about increased government involvement in the sector. Third, an inability to push healthcare reform through a Democrat-dominated Congress makes both the president and his Congressional allies appear ineffectual (as does the dithering over whether a public option needs to be part of any reform plan).
Now, political historians will note that a healthcare reform fiasco helped sink Democrats in the 1994 midterm elections — despite a fairly strong economy — and forced President Bill Clinton to shift to the right and work with congressional Republicans. Together, Clinton and the Republicans balanced budgets, cut taxes and reformed welfare.
But why wait for a political disaster to change course? If Obama wants to deliver meaningful change to the nation’s healthcare system, why not a grand compromise with Republicans that would also bring along centrist Democrats.
Call it the Purple Plan, one that brings red and blue together. Make health insurance mandatory and subsidize those who can’t afford it. (That’s the blue part.) But at the same time dismantle employer-based health plans, which prevent consumers from understanding the true costs of their healthcare decisions. In any case, employer plans are just an accident of history. (That’s the red part.)
The simplest way of dismantling them, according to an analysis by McKinsey, would be to make the money spent on health insurance by employers available as cash, tax free, to employees. “Insurers would then compete for customers with policies that offer better value for the money,” according to McKinsey. “The combination of invigorated supply and demand is the only healthcare reform plan that will avert the economic disaster that otherwise awaits us.”
A Purple Plan for the centrist – or purple — president many Americans thought they were voting for. It would bolster the president’s popularity, lift American spirits and help restore the economy.