Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Amidst all the hoopla about the President’s culpability and now his apology over the failure of the ACA to get off the ground properly, there is a most telling observation about presidential decision-making which may say the most about the Obama Presidency and which analysts have totally ignored. While in no way does this minimize the Obama Administration’s responsibility for the health care legislative problems, it does offer a very important insight into the operation and administration of the Obama White House.
This legislation –as is the case for example with the “pending” immigration bill—was not drafted by the White House or the Administration. It was created by Congress and then the President and its team work it over. This fact rang true in the President’s press conference as he discussed the Administration’s failures to prepare adequately for many of these eventualities. It was not their bill; while they did mold it, it was not created by them. They never truly had ownership of the bill. Consequently, they never worked through all the pitfalls which now have confounded the American people.
Admittedly, they did have three years to run through many of the issues and should have caught the most serious ones. Historically, when the federal government writes a bill, it has been fully vetted and tested before it is presented to Congress. (Curiously, the Clinton Administration never could let go of its own healthcare bill. They kept testing and redesigning it, so that when it was finally sent to the Hill it was much too late. The rest of the demise of Hillary’s bill is history.)
The oddity in this situation is that since early in the Twentieth Century, certainly, almost all major legislative initiatives—actual draft bills—emanated from the White House and the OMB or its predecessor the BOB. Presidents sent Congress draft legislation to chew on and to modify; but the basic bill’s language and procedures came from the White House. This has not been the modus operandi of this Administration. This certainly does not justify why the Obama team is in such a pickle over the major legislative initiative of Barack Obama’s tenure in office. So far, at least, it does not reflect well at all on the Obama style of operating. For the bureaucrats who perhaps actually might have saved the bill from this mess, it is truly chaotic. For presidential scholars it is a fascinating insight into the Obama Presidency and may begin to explain some characteristics about his political psychology.