Joe Biden, Republicans Tying Stimulus to Healthcare Reform

The game that Joe Biden and Michael Steele play with health care.

Democrats celebrated the 200th day of their $787 stimulus plan this week, and the reception was surprisingly cheery. Both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post ran stories that quoted economists praising the stimulus for turning the economy around. Goldman Sachs' chief US economist went so far as to say that without the stimulus, our third quarter GDP might be flat instead of projected to rise by 3 percent. So what are the Democrats doing? Bringing it all back to health care, of course!

Christopher Beam of Slate says that when Joe Biden talks about the stimulus plan, he's really talking about that other multi-hundred billion bill they've got in the pipeline.


Writes Beam:

In his speech today, Biden made sure to mention the economic benefits of electronic health records, to which the stimulus package allocated $19 billion. They will prevent redundancy, he argued, saving patients and taxpayers money. Plus, a major reason the stimulus has worked, Biden said, is because of "leverage." Wind turbines, he said, don't just create jobs; they generate power, save money, and wean the United States off foreign oil--all at the same time! Likewise, electronic health records will improve health care statistics, which produces better diagnoses, which makes Americans more healthy, which means they won't have to visit the doctor as much, which saves money, and so on.

Underlying the stimulus anniversary, therefore, is an implicit bargain: Let us fix the health care system the way you let us fix the economy.

It's not just Biden drawing those connections. Here's Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, jumping all over the unemployment rate:

"The unemployment rate jumped to 9.7 percent. More than 216,000 Americans lost their jobs in the month of August alone. That means more than 3 million Americans have lost their jobs since the president took office. The president's economic experiment simply isn't working, and Americans shouldn't expect his government-run health care experiment to work, either."
That's one reason why my colleague Chris Good is right to tie the unemployment numbers to the Democrats' agenda (he says the 9.7% unemployment figure won't hurt too bad...yet.) All these in-flux factors -- town hall sentiment, unemployment numbers, pjenga.jpgolls on health care, consumer spending, retail and so on -- can tie either balloons or anchors to Obama's agenda, but it only takes one bad number or event to stain the message that the president is in touch with the country and guiding it in the right direction.

This is what I suppose you might call the Jenga! Theory of Presidential Rhetoric. As Beam also pointed out months ago, Obama has a habit of tying all his policy goals together to prove that they -- health care, climate change, stimulus, etc -- are all connected. On the one hand, this is a great way to present a unified agenda. On the other hand, when your agenda is a Jenga! tower, we all know what happens when the wrong piece slips out of place. I'm not sure whether it's a good sign, bad sign or simple political inevitability that both sides are playing Jenga! with the president's policies now.

Jenga! Flickr image from 416style.