Democrats and Republicans in Israel are at loggerheads over the future effects of US President Barack Obama’s historic health care reform bill – passed by the House of Representatives on Sunday – arguing that the landmark legislation either heralds a historic step forward in US domestic policy, or is flawed and could bring ruin to the American economy and, by extension, Israel.
The bill was the main focus of Obama’s first 14 months in office and will extend health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans, making Obama the first president who has succeeded in passing health care reform.
The House passed the bill in a 219-212 vote on Sunday, with all Republicans voting against it.
Kory Bardash, co-chairman of Republicans Abroad Israel said that even though the legislation only applied to the states, it would have a negative effect on Israel in that “it will be very detrimental to the overall economy of the US, which will have an impact on us here.”
Bardash – who, like virtually all Israelis, receives state-supported health coverage – said he wasn’t universally against all government health care; rather, “this plan is the problem. It costs too much and really presents a whole litany of problems.”
When asked if he thought the political clout Obama was expected to gain from the victory would embolden the president’s foreign and domestic policy and encourage him to take more aggressive action in the Middle East, Bardash said, “I don’t know if this will give him added momentum. It will give him added momentum with the far Left, but not with independents. He lost all credibility with independents.”
Bardash’s sentiments were echoed by Abe Katsman, the legal counsel for Republicans Abroad Israel. Katsman said he believed the victory “will embolden [Obama] at least in the short term, but momentum can be a fickle thing. This could be a pyrrhic victory for Obama. The American people aren’t in favor of this bill, and the more he talked about it, the more support dropped. By passing it now, it’s possible he’s sealed his political fate and that of the Democrats in congress.”
Katsman agreed that the bill would affect the US economy and cause a ripple effect that would be felt in Israel, saying that “in general, I think that anybody who has any connections, direct or indirect, to the American economy will be paying a price for this. In one fell swoop, Democrats have nationalized 16% of the American economy. This is going to impact not just the American economy, but the world economy. This is a wrecking ball.”
Sheldon Schorer, counsel for Democrats Abroad Israel, said he believed that the bill should have no effect on Americans living in Israel. He said he had no reason to believe that a penalty for those who didn’t sign on to the health care package – which would include Americans in Israel – would make it into the final legislation.
Schorer said that while he considered it a “major” development that Americans living in Israel would be able to receive coverage if they returned to the US, he didn’t think it would cause anyone to go back.
“I don’t see any mass movement following this, especially since Israel has such excellent health care,” he said.
Schorer denied contentions that the bill would wreak havoc on the US economy, citing reports that it would save tens of billions in budget expenditures over the next 10 years.
He added, “We also see that the American Medical Association has recently supported it because now over 30 million patients will be paying their medical bills who wouldn’t have been able to before.”
Schorer said he felt the victory would give a significant boost to the Obama administration, saying, “Obama has taken a very big risk with this legislation. Many other presidents have tried and failed to pass health care reform, and for Obama to stake his career on a dicey issue like this showed great courage.”
Schorer added that “this is certainly an indication that he is an effective leader, and it should only lead his stature at home abroad.”
Joanne Yaron, chairwoman of Democrats Abroad Israel, said it was still too soon to say whether or not the momentum Obama is widely expected to receive from Monday’s victory would translate into a more forceful legislative agenda.
“He has so many inherited domestic issues and problems on his plate from the previous administration, there is no way we can know now,” she said. “But the president has given his attention to foreign affairs directly and through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and, specifically for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, former senator George Mitchell, who solved the thorny Irish conflict. Let’s wait and see.”
In a press release issued on Monday, Jody Couser, press officer for
Democrats Abroad – which represents members of the Democratic Party in
over 160 countries worldwide – praised the “historic” House vote.
“This legislation is the single greatest deficit reduction package
since [former president Bill] Clinton’s 1993 budget, which ushered in
an era of budget surpluses and economic growth. It will reduce the
deficit by over $1 trillion in the next 20 years and put us back on a
path to fiscal responsibility, all while providing coverage to almost
every American,” the statement read.