Classroom Activities
Obama’s Deal: The Deal Making Begins

Three months into his administration, President Barack Obama set out to tackle one of the nation’s toughest issues: health care reform. In this video clip from Obama’s Deal, students will learn of President Obama’s negotiations with powerful lobbyists and members of Congress–and the importance of political compromise in shaping major legislation.

Getting Started

For classrooms studying social studies, civics and government, this FRONTLINE classroom activity includes a set of related themes and discussion questions to help students analyze and understand key current events. Watch the video chapter and start a discussion to explore the role of negotiations and compromise in passing major reform legislation. Go further into this topic with the Obama’s Deal Lesson Plan that asks students to review and evaluate key health care reform deals.


Video Themes

  • Initially, the White House strategy for passing health care reform was to be transparent and give all interested parties a voice in the process.

  • Publicly, the health insurance industry was to be a willing partner in health care reform, but privately, it pushed for reforms that were beneficial to its business interests.

  • To get the health industry’s support, President Obama agreed to include provisions in the health care reform bill that went against his 2008 campaign promises.

  • By default, the writing of the health care reform bill went to a Democratic senator, Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who was strongly supported by the health industry. The White House staff did not consider the senator to be an advantage in passing the Obama administration’s plan.

  • As the health care reform bill began to take shape, it was apparent to many that deals were being made with the health insurance industry that excluded alternative proposals from others groups, like Dr. Margaret Flowers’ Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates for a single-payer health care option.

Discussion Questions

  • Describe the Obama administration’s strategy for holding the May 2009 health care reform meeting with the president and all interested parties. What was the administration trying to accomplish, and what was it trying to avoid, based on lessons learned in the past?

  • Karen Ignagni and the health insurance lobby wanted the final health care reform bill to require everyone to buy health insurance and not include a public option. What does Karen Ignagni’s role indicate about powerful lobbyists? Do you think these powerful lobbyists help or hurt the legislative process, and why?

  • In what ways were the demands of the health insurance lobby in opposition to the health care reforms candidate Obama proposed during the 2008 campaign? Why do you think President Obama eventually agreed to the demands from the lobbying groups? Do you see any other options the president might have explored? Do you think this type of political compromise is in the best interest of American citizens? Explain your answer.

  • Name some of the reasons many in the Obama administration felt Montana Sen. Max Baucus was the least likely person to deliver real comprehensive health care reform.

  • Why were health care reform activists like Dr. Margaret Flowers angry with Sen. Baucus during the committee hearings? Do you feel their protests were justified? What could Sen. Baucus have done differently? What might have been the outcome?

Go Further

Featured Lesson Plan: “Deal or No Deal?”

Web-exclusive Resources: Timeline of the Push to Reform Health Care

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