Newsweek's Fineman Invokes Rahm on Health Care: Obama Not Making Use of 'Crisis Mode'

Last fall, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel remarked, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.”


That quote has become part of a rallying cry for conservatives, that those currently in power are trying to create the perception of a crisis to force things through the legislative process that couldn’t be done otherwise. That has been dismissed by those on the left as fear-mongering and the party in power is acting in good faith based on what their constituents want.


But on MSNBC’s Oct. 14 “Countdown,” Newsweek senior Washington correspondent Howard Fineman found fault with President Barack Obama’s administration for not living up to Emanuel’s expectations. On Oct. 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee toyed with the idea of stripping health insurance providers of their antitrust exemption and “Countdown” Keith Olbermann suggested members of Congress hold that exemption over insurance companies’ heads to force them to go along with the Senate’s idea of health insurance reform.


“The other notable industry that has this exemption – many of us know that that would be professional baseball,” Olbermann said. “And over the years, as I was implying to the Congressman [Alan Grayson], over the years, Congress has had modest, very rarely used success getting baseball to jump through hoops to keep that exemption. Could that be the best use of this? Could that be strategy here, threaten the exemption, restrict it in some ways, but don’t kill it so you always have that ax to go to? Or does it have to be ax time?”


The industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans argues the antitrust exemption should remain in place so states can regulate the industry, not the federal government. But according to Fineman, the very idea that this would be in play for Judiciary Committee member Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who represents a state that is home to these insurers means the industry isn’t getting any special treatment when it comes to his representation.


“Well, it may have to be ax time, but it’s interesting that Chuck Schumer is leading the parade here, the senator from New York, because it’s New York and other states like Connecticut and a couple other states that have always played a huge role in the regulation of the insurance business,” Fineman said. “They don’t want to give that up – and Schumer being from New York probably has some local interest who wouldn’t want it to be given up. But the fact that he’s pushing as hard as he can now means that all bets are off with the insurance business.”


“A lot of other stakeholders remain at the table with Rahm Emanuel,” Fineman continued. “They are in that room at least by proxy. But the insurance industry has declared war on the Congress – and that’s going to be a defining element from here on out.”


That led Olbermann to inquire how they got to this point, where Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, was able to play such an integral part in the debate as a lone Republican supporter by voting for Sen. Max Baucus’ bill that came out of his Senate Finance Committee.


“I think that Olympia Snowe is going to be in a side room, at least initially, then she’ll be part of it,” Fineman said. “She’s part of it because, as Congressman Grayson was saying, she’s gotten an inordinate role in this because of the mathematics of the Senate and because of the way the administration’s approached this.”


But that’s where Fineman conjured up Emanuel’s Nov. 8, 2008, about not letting a crisis go to waste. By allowing Snowe participate in the negotiations, the White House isn’t operating in “crisis mode” as they could according to Fineman.


“You made a great point earlier, which is Rahm Emanuel said at the beginning of this process, remember he said, ‘Let’s never let a good crisis go to waste.’ That was one of the reasons they pushed health care to begin with, but they haven’t dealt with it or negotiated about it in crisis mode. They’ve negotiated it sort of backroom poker-style. And that’s another reason why Olympia Snowe will be at that table.”