Opinion

Commentary: President Obama and broken promises

Although I've been there just a few times, I must be a Nebraskan at heart.

I say this because residents of the Cornhusker state gave Sen. Ben Nelson grief for cutting a back-room deal that would have saved them — and only them — considerable money on health care.

In fact, Nebraskans were so embarrassed by Nelson's extortion of Democratic colleagues for his all-important 60th vote on health-care reform that they shouted him out of a pizza joint in Omaha. On Friday, realizing the error of his ways, Nelson asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to cancel the deal.

Now I find myself in the same boat as many Nebraskans: embarrassed and mad about a presidential deal that I didn't seek and don't want.

I'm a union member. I participate in a health-care plan largely paid for by this newspaper. And, while the option that I've chosen doesn't qualify as a "Cadillac plan" today, who's to say that it won't in the future?

In case you missed it, President Barack Obama, along with congressional Democrats, are making nice with unions. The latest version of reform would exempt union members from paying a proposed excise tax on family health-care plans costing $24,000 a year for families and $8,900 for individuals.

Why should unions get this deal?

Here's the tortured logic: organized labor claims that the exemption is fair because members have given up salary increases in exchange for keeping first-rate health insurance benefits.

Using that line of thinking, millions of nonunion Americans who have had both wages and benefits cut ought to be served up their own secretly negotiated, never-broadcast-on-C-SPAN, health-care reform deal of the week.

Back in 2008, candidate Obama promised that he would return fair play to Washington, D.C. He talked of transforming the process of government — ending secret deals and kicking lobbyists out of the inner circle. Most of all, he vowed to restore the ideal of Americans working together to solve problems.

Obama has failed to heed his own words. In his zeal to achieve the noble goal of health reform, he has abandoned the platform that carried him to victory.

Yes, many Republican leaders have put up formidable obstacles and are willing to sacrifice American success for partisan victory. But Obama — his ears deaf to the hopes and fears of the people — is chiefly responsible for continuing the business-as-usual politics that is fraying the fabric of this country.

A wise leader recognizes when he's off course and corrects his heading. For Obama, this means recognizing that when Blue Dog Democrats are fighting for their political lives and only 35% of Americans surveyed by the Quinnipiac poll approve of his handling of health care, there is little voter appetite for bigger, costlier, favor-laden government.

Obama should call a timeout on health care and start over. Address the two big problems — the high costs run up by uninsured Americans who get health care in emergency rooms, and the denial of insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. Then, incrementally address the other health-care insurance problems.

Most of all, the president should go back, read his speeches and stick to his promises. Maybe take a trip to Nebraska.

Right now, — on everything from the economy to health care to back-room government — he looks like the old boss to a nation that's tired of being fooled, again.

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