As the health care debate moves forward, it appears that President Obama may well be on the verge of getting his way on health care reform.
President Obama’s leadership style has often been criticized by both supporters and opponents alike for being above the fray to the point of appearing aloof. As far back as the primary campaign, many were demanding that he become more aggressive and butt heads more, arguing that he could not win with his soft approach to leadership. Yet, with news that Majority Leader Reid will include the much talked about public option in the final bill, President Obama’s leadership style may be vindicated yet again.
News broke on Tuesday that Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was still holding out and was even willing to join the GOP in a filibuster of the bill if it contained a public option. It is clear that the Senate and indeed both houses of Congress are as unpredictable as ever and are both determined to remain fiercely independent. Joe Lieberman is not the only one holding out in the Democratic caucus. Neither Ben Nelson of Nebraska nor Mary Landrieu of Louisiana have indicated whether or not they will allow the bill on the Senate floor for a vote.
Many progressives have expressed frustration with President Obama, complaining that he has not leaned hard enough on so-called moderate Democrats, or that he has not come out strongly enough for the public option despite the fact that he has made it clear time and again that his preference is for a public option.
However, history suggests that presidents pushing for their pet pieces of legislation isn’t always a good idea. In a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, former Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee said the reason George W. Bush could not get his one big piece of legislation – social security reform – passed was because of his unwillingness to compromise. In fact, Bush lost on social security during his second term, at a time when he had majorities in both houses of Congress.
Similarly, Bill Clinton failed in his attempts at health care reform specifically because he was seen as attempting to foist his own ideas onto Congress without seeking their input. The Democratic senate killed the reform bill despite hauling then-first lady Hillary Clinton before five congressional committees on healthcare.
Contrary to accusations from the right that President Obama does not understand the constitution, his background as a constitutional professor has provided him with the knowledge that it is the role of Congress to write legislation. As a former legislator himself, he also understands that the legislature does not take too kindly to being dictated to by a chief executive. As such, President Obama, who was accused of “outsourcing” the writing of the healthcare reform bill to Congress, appears to have gone about this exactly the right way. He has allowed the legislature to write the legislation, while performing his job as president by pushing his agenda from above his bully pulpit.
Bill Clinton, in overseeing the writing of his bill in 1993, was shunned by his own party who resented being left out. Similarly, Bush, in leaning heavily on GOP lawmakers, lost out on his biggest agenda because of his unwillingness to compromise.
In expressing his support for a public option, but showing his willingness to compromise, President Obama has clearly managed to bring this most elusive of pieces of legislation the farthest it has ever traveled in Congress in more than 60 years.
It is likely that health care reform will pass this year, but the very fact that the public option remains alive really is a testament to President Obama’s leadership style.