Predictable Punditry

Bill Scher

On Monday, I not only noted that Sen. John McCain’s health care plan represents a bigger political risk than Sen. Barack Obama’s, but also that the Beltway punditocracy would presume the opposite.

That didn’t take long. Here’s yesterday’s Boston Globe analysis (Dateline: Washington):

Healthcare overhaul would be risky for a President Obama

The Democrats sense that the combination of skyrocketing costs, insufficient coverage, and a growing realization that healthcare obligations are making American companies less competitive may be enough to erase traditional fears of a government-sponsored overhaul.

Or maybe not.

The reality is more complicated. Most Americans are pleased with their health coverage, even as they acknowledge the flaws in the national system. Every previous attempt to revamp healthcare has begun with a political consensus that change is necessary and ended with a political consensus that change is too risky.

What this off-the-shelf analysis fails to tell its readers is the Obama plan is designed to avoid that specific political pitfall. Recognizing that many are “pleased with the health coverage,” his plan stresses that if you like what you have, you can keep it. The reform is in providing more choices for those that don’t like what they live.

In reality, it is McCain’s plan that assumes this political risk. By imposing a new tax on health benefits you get from your employer, McCain’s plan would disrupt the current health care arrangements for everybody in the workplace, even for those who are happy with their present insurance.

It is McCain that needs to make the argument to folks who are content that they should take a chance on a completely new system, not Obama. (As today’s New York Times piece on McCain’s plan says, “Mr. McCain’s proposal … would be part of a market-based restructuring that is in many ways more fundamental than the universal coverage proposed by Mr. Obama.”)

But since Obama’s plan envisions a more direct role for our government — providing a public insurance option that competes with private plans — the Beltway pundit knee-jerk reaction always is, that’s politically dicey. Never mind the polls that clearly show that the opposite is true.

It is at least hopeful that the NYT is looking closely at the McCain plan. Other media outlets should do the same, for both plans, so voters can judge the potential risks for themselves.

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