When future historians write about the Obama presidency, the question of how the once-obscure junior senator from Illinois handled the task of reforming the nation's health care system will be foremost on their minds as they judge his domestic policy achievements.
Democrats are eager to pass the signature issue of Obama's presidential campaign before the end of the year. But as members of Congress are battered by irate constituents worried about whether health care will be rationed, chances of the effort being derailed grow by the day. Obama is set to spell out his health care plans on Wednesday. This speech will be closely scrutinized for decades to come.
Obama has clearly been hurt by the contentious debate surrounding his health care reform proposal. Though he remains wildly popular -- especially compared to his predecessor -- his approval has slipped from 68 percent to 56 percent, according to a CBS News poll. His backers are urging him not to give into pressure to water-down his proposal.
In an editorial, the New York Times urged Obama to stay the course saying, "This is no time to yield on core elements of reform or on the scale of the effort in search of enough Republican support to provide the veneer of bipartisanship, or even the one or two Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster."
Trying to reform the health care system is like searching for the proof of an unsolvable mathematical theorem. Some may argue that it's like trying to be the first to document life on other worlds. Theoretically, it's possible to solve these problems. But the journey is extraordinarily difficult, fraught with so much danger that many wonder whether it's even worth the trouble. Obama, though, had little choice.
Health care spending is expected to reach $2.5 trillion in 2009, equaling 17.6 percent of GDP, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. Costs are expected to soar to $4.4 trillion by 2018 -- more than double 2007 levels. There are an estimated 46 million people in the country without insurance.
These are scary numbers, and finding a compromise among members of Congress is proving to be elusive. That's especially true considering the raw emotion involved and the fear-mongering by opponents of Obama's initiative with the ludicrous talk of "death panels."
For now, Obama continues to push for the "public option" policy, though he appears willing to compromise. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told the press that the President's Wednesday speech will "draw some lines in the sand." Some of that may be chest thumping.
But according to Bloomberg News, there will be at least one more attempt to try and get some support from Republicans for health care reform.
"Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is proposing legislation to enact President Barack Obama's top domestic priority that would cost less than $900 billion over 10 years and establish non-profit insurance cooperatives to extend coverage to the uninsured rather than create a government-run program, according to a person familiar with the plan," Bloomberg said.