Kuttner makes excellent points on mandates -- "My point is that a mandate, in a situation where the whole system is sick, makes that sickness the problem of the individual. Instead of putting a gun to people’s heads, typically people who can’t afford good quality insurance, and saying to them, “You must, under penalty of law, or pay a tax or pay a fine, go out and find decent insurance,” it’s so much better policy to just have insurance for everybody. Then there’s no question of a mandate.
"I think it’s a very bad position for progressives to back into, because it signals that government is being coercive, rather than government being helpful. Now, we can split hairs and argue whether Obama is being principled or tactical, but I think his discomfort with the idea of a mandate is something that I applaud. I wish that both he and Clinton had gone all the way and said, let’s just to do this right and have national health insurance. I think they could have used this as a teachable moment. They could have bought public opinion around. Medicare is phenomenally popular. Medicare is national health insurance for seniors. Let’s have national health insurance for everybody."
Here's the transcript from the debate:
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: We cannot get to universal healthcare, which I believe is both a core Democratic value and an imperative for our country, if we don’t do one of three things. Either you can have a single-payer system, or—which I know a lot of people favor, but for many reasons is difficult to achieve—or you can mandate employers—well, that’s also very controversial—or you can do what I am proposing, which is to have shared responsibility.Amy Goodman points this out: "It’s interesting to note something Hillary Clinton says in that clip. When she mentions a single-payer system, the audience applauds and cheers, even though it’s an option rarely seriously discussed by politicians or the corporate media. And Hillary Clinton acknowledges the applause by saying, “I know a lot of people favor [it], but for many reasons [it’s] difficult to achieve.” She doesn’t explain why she thinks it’s difficult to achieve. And polls repeatedly show a majority of Americans favor it. An A.P. poll in December found nearly two-thirds of voters want universal healthcare, in which everyone’s covered in a Medicare-type program, while more than half of voters explicitly said they support single payer."
Now, in Barack’s plan, he very clearly says he will mandate that parents get health insurance for their children. So it’s not that he is against mandatory provisions; it’s that he doesn’t think it would be politically acceptable to require that for everyone. I just disagree with that. I think we, as Democrats, have to be willing to fight for universal healthcare.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: What they’re struggling with is they can’t afford the healthcare. And so, I emphasize reducing costs. My belief is—is that if we make it affordable, if we provide subsidies to those who can’t afford it, they will buy it. Senator Clinton has a different approach. She believes that we have to force people who don’t have health insurance to buy it, otherwise there will be a lot of people who don’t get it. I don’t see those folks. And I think that it is important for us to recognize that if, in fact, you’re going to mandate the purchase of insurance and it’s not affordable, then there’s going to have to be some enforcement mechanism that the government uses. And they may charge people who already don’t have healthcare fines or have to take it out of their paychecks. And that, I don’t think, is helping those without health insurance. That is a genuine difference.
Kuttner replied that "one of the reasons that it’s difficult to achieve is the lack of leadership on the part of leaders like Hillary Clinton and, for that matter, Barack Obama. I mean, if you had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say, 'You know, this is an intramural debate that we should not be having, this debate about mandates; we should do this right: we should have national health insurance,' public opinion would turn around on a dime. And instead of it being this fringe idea, all of a sudden, just because the two of them had blessed it, it would become a mainstream idea, and we would be having a debate that we should have been having all along."
Amy Goodman is a national treasure.