Why Obama holds the cards on healthcare reform

The House of Representatives voted yesterday to repeal the centerpiece of President Obama’s first term in office. To hear congressional Republicans tell it, healthcare reform is well on its way to repeal. The voters certainly dislike the landmark law, and if their voices carry to the corridors of the Senate and that body votes for repeal, the Congress will have spoken.

And yet, that’s where it will end. In fact, few in this town believe the legislation will ever get to the other side of the dome. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) still controls that chamber’s calendar, and no one sees him bringing up the bill anytime soon.

Dream a little more and say the Senate does the unthinkable. There’s no way Obama signs the bill to repeal his own measure.

Suspend belief for a moment and imagine a scenario where Republicans are in a position to alter this new law and change some of its most despised features.

Even then, the task is herculean. Obama still holds the upper hand in this debate. Why? Special interests will not turn against this administration on healthcare, particularly not the healthcare lobbyists. Yep, the same associations and healthcare trade groups who gave us the famed “Harry and Louise” ads along with labyrinthine flow charts and all the opposition firepower will keep their guns silent in this effort.

They have no choice. For the reality is Obama’s health plan is now the law of the land. And the president’s own Health and Human Services Department is responsible for doling out tens of billions in new grants, funding and other resources. The department is also in charge of drafting thousands of pages of regulations — guidelines with the force of law that will dictate winners and losers in the new universe that is called healthcare reform.

No entity — from medical device manufacturers to insurance companies to prescription drug makers — will want to run up against a department that can quietly and effectively make its respective industries miserable.

In effect, these health trade associations and their armies of lobbyists have been neutralized. To follow their desires and side with Republicans on even one area the Obama administration disagrees with could spell ruin for the scores of other regulations they need HHS’s help with. By the same token, these groups cannot get too cozy with Obama and his Democrats because Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the new sheriff in town, and he’s going to run things far differently than his predecessors.

Watch this mosaic of separate issues begin to form in the coming months. You’ll find that the agendas of these health associations will be meek in how they approach the biggest circus in town so far.

That scene will continue well into the 2012 election cycle, where I predict healthcare will remain front and center for both parties as they try to finish what was started at the beginning of the 112th Congress.


Armstrong Williams is on Sirius/XM Power 169, 7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside.