Hazards linger as the Obama agenda stalls

Bob Tippee
Editor

Those raucous outbursts against health-care reform legislation mean more than what US President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party stalwarts want to believe.

Americans correctly sense that their stylish and articulate president has been railroading them—and not just on health care.

Attempts to discredit the backlash as misapprehension wrought by right-wing scaremongering look foolish.

In fact, the Congressional Budget Office wrecked the Obama program when it estimated that health bills written to the president’s prescription would add at least $1 trillion to the federal deficit over 10 years.

CBO thus punctured Obama’s core argument: that health-care costs will lead to fiscal ruin if the government doesn’t take control of the system and promise insurance coverage to everyone.

Rising US health costs remain a problem, of course. But Obama’s lots-for-all solution is collapsing under the weight of its own impossible economics.

Democrats now can hope only to pass some light version of health-care reform and declare victory. But the damage is done, and Obama’s credibility has suffered.

The president similarly jumped overboard with energy and climate change provisions of his budget proposal.

Obama wanted to raise tens of billions of dollars from the oil and gas industry, with tax changes, and hundreds of billions from emitters of greenhouse gases, with auctions of emission credits. He aimed proceeds at renewable energy and relief for families hurt by recession.

In Congress, however, tax changes that would have stymied US drilling have stalled. And the emission-credit auction has given way to a politically malleable allocation system providing few of the front-end dollars crucial to Obama’s wealth transfers.

These are fundamental defeats for a president who tried to change too much of the national economy too radically and too quickly. American wariness of heedless liberalism is evident in recent slides in Obama’s approval ratings.

Yet the oil and gas industry can take no comfort in the unraveling of his hostile political agenda. Hazards persist.

Democrats will feel obliged to rescue their fading hero. They need a dragon to slay. They need tax revenue. For the industry, these are reasons to worry.

(Online Aug. 14, 2009; author’s e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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