It has taken panics, depressions, wars and social upheaval to get Congress to adopt social and economic reforms. At all other times, the publics’ distrust of government, as reinforced by business, has carried the day. Bill Clinton discovered that out in his first term when he tried to pass a national healthcare program. Obama succeeded in passing a health care bill in 2010 in the wake of the Great Recession. But if Obamacare doesn’t work as promised, then its failure will have reinforced for a generation the argument against any government initiatives. Reform will be dead – whether it’s to fix immigration, healthcare, or the growing gap between rich and poor.
Jonathan Chait offers a somewhat different take:
The keep-your-plan fiasco, in addition to flummoxing Democrats, has not only held out to Republicans the tantalizing prospect that they can discredit and defeat Obamacare, but also drawn into sympathetic focus their own alternative vision.
Here is the basic ideological division. Obama wants the health-care system to do more to pool risk — which is to say, to shift the burden of covering the sick onto the healthy. Republicans want it to do less to pool risk, so that healthy people can be free of the burden of subsidizing the costs of those less medically fortunate.