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February 18, 2014
Editorial: Obama is hurting himself by not reaching out

Obama_Budget_Battle.JPG(Feb. 18 - By the Editorial Board)

It's a safe bet that more than a few rank-and-file Democrats in Congress are thinking it, but Rep. Ami Bera of Elk Grove is willing to say it publicly: President Barack Obama is hurting his own cause by not being more inclusive.

Bera points to two issues of major concern to Californians - health care and water - and he's absolutely right.

On water, Bera told The Sacramento Bee's editorial board on Tuesday that he was disappointed that Obama did not talk to a wider circle of leaders during his visit Friday to Fresno to see the drought's impact.

The president invited only Democrats along for his three-hour tour, even though the support of Republicans, including House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, is crucial to getting any significant water legislation through Congress.

Moreover, Obama did not venture to the Delta or points north to hear from local officials who have very different views than big farmers in the Central Valley. Obama spent time with Gov. Jerry Brown, but Bera noted that Democrats like himself oppose Brown's plan for huge tunnels to help transfer water south.

On such a complicated issue as water, Bera said, the president must listen to all sides and to all parts of the state. While Obama acknowledged the competing interests and noted that California's agricultural production makes its water issues a national concern, he failed to back up his words with action. His time would have been better spent in the Delta than playing another round of golf at the Sunnylands estate near Palm Springs.

On health care, Bera said that Obama should have first come to Congress before unilaterally delaying key parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Last week, the administration announced that it had again given many companies more time to provide health coverage to their employees. Under the law passed by Congress in 2010, the employer mandate for those with 50 or more workers was supposed to take effect last month. Last July, the White House granted a one-year delay. The latest change lets businesses with fewer than 100 full-time workers off the hook until 2016 without a tax penalty, and also allows larger employers to phase in coverage through 2016. Facing a public outcry, Obama last November allowed individuals to renew for another year insurance policies that did not meet quality standards.

It's understandable that the president is wary of giving House Republican leaders the opportunity to meddle in Obamacare, since they're dead set on repealing it entirely. By not involving Congress, however, Obama only energizes the critics who say he is overstepping his authority by selectively changing the law through executive orders.

Bera, a physician by trade, agrees with slowing down health care reform to build on what's working and fix what isn't. He argues, however, that the White House should not be defensive and should be open to ideas for enrolling more young people and minority groups and adding primary care doctors and nurses to rural and other underserved areas.

You can't ignore the politics. Bera is seeking a second term this year in a very competitive district. Needing some votes from moderate Republicans, he will have to strategically distance himself from Obama.

Yet Bera is also right on the principle. Obama will get more done in what's left of his second term if he works more closely with Congress, especially his friends.



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February 2014

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