Home court advantage didn’t help Obama

Hon. Ernest Istook Former Republican Congressman
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President Obama used his health care summit Thursday to give his side every advantage possible. Whenever opponents spoke, he got to respond. By appointing himself the moderator, Obama gave himself the first word, the last word, and the most words.

He conspicuously overplayed his home court advantage, but it didn’t work as he’d hoped.

Overall, Obama gave Democrats over twice as much speaking time as Republicans. The 17 GOP’ers attending received a collective 110 minutes. By himself, Obama hogged 119 minutes of microphone time and gave his 21 fellow Democrats an additional 114 minutes. When called to account for this, Obama proclaimed it fair because, “I’m the President.”

Obama exercised free reign to cut off opponents, speak sharply, and pass judgment on whether others’ arguments were legitimate. He wasn’t just a player; he also was the referee.

Despite giving his side all the advantages, most commentators agree that Republicans held their own or even carried the day. CNN’s David Gergen proclaimed that Republicans “had their best day in years.”

A key moment was when Obama—arguing passionately with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)—claimed his plan would reduce the cost of private health insurance, and then the president was forced publicly to back down from that claim.

As media such as the Daily Caller reported:

“Later in the session, after an aide handed the president a note, Obama admitted he had been wrong: ‘What the Congressional Budget Office is saying is, is that if I now have the opportunity to actually buy a decent package inside the exchange, that costs me about 10% to 13% more but is actually real insurance, then there are going to be a bunch of people who take advantage of that. So yes, I’m paying 10% to 13% more because instead of buying an apple, I’m getting an orange.’”

It was a crucial point because, for many Americans, the key issue is not whether government provides health care for the uninsured, but whether it lowers costs for the already insured. Whether the number of uninsured is estimated at 30 million or 46 million (and both numbers are deceptive) it still represents only 10 percent-15 percent of the population.

Among the 85 percent-90 percent of Americans who have insurance, the pressing concern is affordability, not availability. Obama’s most important health reform promise to them was his oft-repeated pledge to lower their health insurance costs by $2,500 per year. Being forced to admit on live television that his plan fails to do that—and instead increases premiums—was the low point of the summit for the president.

As Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) noted: “It’s just another example of why because the bill has to raise so much money, it ends up hurting the very people that we want to help.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (D-Tenn.) offered Obama a clear chance to embrace a premium-reducing solution. For example, she said, those Californians who face up to 39 percent increases in premiums should be given “the ability to go to Oregon, where they could buy a policy for 25 percent less, or individuals in New Jersey who could go to Pennsylvania and buy a policy and lower their cost 26 percent, or go to Wisconsin and buy one and lower their cost 74 percent.”

The need for a plan that lowers premiums rather than increases them is a major reason why the best course for Congress would be to start over. Lawmakers should take a different approach, rather than try to ram through ObamaCare and impose it on a country that does not want it.

Ernest Istook served 14 years as a U.S. Congressman, and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.