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Shields, Brooks Mull Health Reform, Palin’s Role in GOP

Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks assess the chances for health care reform to clear Congress this year, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's role in the GOP and the significance of the Virginia governor's race.

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    And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello, gentlemen.


    Good evening.


    Good to see you both.

    The president hit the road, Mark, this week to begin to try to sell health care reform. Now, behind the scenes, it's getting hotter and hotter. The negotiations are getting under way. What's your sense right now for what the chances for are for — that the president will get real reform this year?


    Define real reform.

    We will get health reform. There will be a bill signing. There will be an event.

    The product is, I still think, very much to be determined, Judy. But the president has been the total opposite of what we went through in this city 15 years ago with the Clinton administration, where they developed this secret, this incredibly complex plan, and then presented it to the Congress. It never got out of subcommittee.

    The president has just given the Congress this long leash on writing it. And I think pretty — sooner, rather than later, as he emphasized the urgency for moving on it, he's going to have to weigh in, and weigh in heavily.


    How do you see the — the odds right now?


    Yes. I agree there will be a signing. Something will pass. I think the White House already has a fallback position, which is that, if they can't get something big, they will at least add more groups to those who are covered. Some groups that aren't covered will be covered.

    The question is whether they get the big universal thing, which they want. And there are two issues which I think are the fundamental issues which are the sticking points. The one is the so-called public plan, which is to have a public government insurance plan to compete with the private.

    And the question, the crucial question, is, is that going to be subsidized by the government and therefore compete unfairly? A lot of liberals like the public plan. A lot of moderate Democrats are very nervous about it. All Republicans loathe it. And, so, that's that one fight. That is the one they can probably fudge, find a compromise, and they are already working on that.

    To me, the bigger obstacle is cost. They have got — it will cost a billion — $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years. They have got to find a way to cover that cost. They have covered about $300 billion so far with some Medicare cuts. They have got — got to find another way.

    And the way to do that, most people say, is to tax employer benefits. And most health care experts think that this is a great idea, including me. But the question is, do you tax just the rich, in which case you don't get enough money, or does the Obama administration really tax the middle class and break — break that campaign pledge?