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What Health Care Debate? « The Washington Independent

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne today joins the ranks of those predicting that, a year from now, the health care debate will be a distant memory, lost in the raging political scuffle over who’s to blame for rampant unemployment.

While official Washington and much of the media focus on the great health-care struggle, the administration’s economic advisers have been busy reviewing proposals to create jobs, aware that pressure on them will grow to deal with high unemployment that threatens to persist through Election Day next year. President Obama’s aides insist that they knew all along that the original stimulus, as one of them put it, would “never fill the full gap from the recession.” Whether or not they anticipated this, they’re planning to act, even though — for political reasons — what comes next will not be called “a second stimulus.”

Instead, Democratic leaders are eying proposals more likely to gather support on both sides of the aisle, including an extension of the $8,000 new homebuyers’ tax credit, additional funding for unemployment insurance, Medicaid and food stamp assistance, and perhaps the launch of a new tax credit for businesses that hire new workers.

It won’t be easy. While employment figures are always among the last indicators to rebound from recession, the extent of the current job losses has caught many economists off guard. Indeed, the Labor Department last week revealed that employers shed 263,000 more workers than they hired last month, bumping the country’s unemployment rate to a 26-year-high of 9.8 percent. And experts on both sides of the aisle are predicting that the numbers will remain elevated through 2010.

If those projections play out, then the thorniest debates on the campaign trail a year from now will have very little to do with health care reform.

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