Obama Channels LBJ



After a week-long overseas trip, President Barack Obama has returned full force to the issue of health care, dropping phrases like "Inaction is not an option" and "Don't bet against us." And according to The Washington Post, when it comes to using tough rhetoric to push legislation through Congress, Obama is channeling a pioneer in the realm of sweeping domestic agendas: President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson was renowned for his ability to "persuade" members of Congress to support his policies, including Medicare. Obama is apparently following LBJ's example:

The tough talk in the Rose Garden gave way hours later to behind-the-scenes Lyndon B. Johnson-style lobbying, as Obama pledged in a pair of private meetings with Democratic lawmakers to stake his political capital on this year's top agenda item.
In mapping its strategy, the Obama team chose to take its cues from another Democratic senator-turned-president: following the legislative model employed by Johnson to enact Medicare in 1965. […] Early on, Obama and health czar Nancy-Ann DeParle discussed the parallels with Johnson and creation of the health program that serves 45 million seniors and people with disabilities today. Just as Johnson gave legendary lawmaker Wilbur Mills (D-Ark.) latitude to craft the Medicare bill, Obama has asked Congress to write the health-care revamp legislation.

"There are two qualities these presidents have in common," White House senior adviser David Axelrod gushed to the Post. Obama is like Johnson in that he "had a big vision and drove the country toward it, and second, he had a great appreciation for the legislative process."

What's also clear is that Johnson's health care reform turned out to be a disaster, much like Obama's looks to be. Praising the mastermind behind Medicare—probably not such a smart idea right about now.

As Stephen Hayward and Erik Peterson pointed out in a 1993 Reason article entitled "The Medicare Monster," the staggering cost of Johnson's program alone is a warning sign about the feasability of any health care industry overhaul: 

At its start, in 1966, Medicare cost $3 billion. The House Ways and Means Committee estimated that Medicare would cost only about $ 12 billion by 1990 (a figure that included an allowance for inflation). This was a supposedly "conservative" estimate. But in 1990 Medicare actually cost $107 billion.

 Read Hayward and Peterson's full article here.