Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 3, 2010

PELOSI: 'WE ARE VERY, VERY CLOSE'.... House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hosted a conference call yesterday to discuss the status of health care reform, and seemed largely optimistic about the initiative's chances. But she raised one major sticking point.

Speaking generally, Pelosi made several comments that suggested reform is anything but dead. "We are very, very close" to getting this done, she said, adding that "one way or another," she intends to "find a way to get this done." After a question that referred to health care reform being on the "back-burner," Pelosi replied, "All the burners are running on this stove."

Indeed, for the most part, the Speaker was unequivocal. The "path we're on gives me confidence," she said, adding, "Just because we reach a bump in the road doesn't mean that we turn back. We will get the job done." She also dismissed out of hand the notion that reform could be completed piecemeal, and used the word "comprehensive" repeatedly.

Pelosi even repeated her line from last week: "You go through the gate. If the gate's closed, you go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we'll pole-vault in. If that doesn't work, we'll parachute in."

Sounds good, right? After all kinds of talk about the demise of reform, here was the House Speaker explaining, on the record, that she remains quite optimistic.

So, what's the problem? Pelosi also suggested the House won't do anything on health care reform until the Senate acts first to improve the legislation it passed in December.

"Our members will not support the Senate bill. Take that as a fact. [...]

"Don't even ask us to consider passing the Senate bill until the other legislation has passed both houses so that we're sure that it has happened, and that we know that what we would be voting for would be as effected by a reconciliation bill or whatever parliamentary initiative they have at their disposal."

Asked if she expects the Senate to go first, Pelosi said, "Yes." After a lengthy pause, she added, "Yes."

When a reporter noted that it may not be procedurally possible for the Senate to amend legislation that hasn't become law yet, Pelosi rejected the premise and said the Senate could find a way. And it must, according to her argument, because the House refuses to move forward as things stand.

What this tells us, then, is that the Senate expects the House to pass health care reform, and then both chambers will approve improvements. The House expects the Senate to pass improvements first, and won't move on health care until that happens. This is a recipe for failure -- both chambers waiting for the other to do something, making it far more likely that nothing happens.

I've been pushing the line that congressional Democrats can/should realize what needs to be done, and not rely excessively on the White House. I still believe that, but it's also becoming clearer to me that expecting lawmakers to figure this out on their own appears increasingly unrealistic -- the House and Senate are at odds, they don't seem to be getting anywhere, and without some presidential intervention, a way forward will likely never materialize.

The fate of reform, in other words, shouldn't necessarily fall on the president's shoulders, but it may anyway.

As for the calendar, Pelosi did not address specifics, but said she wants to get reform done "before too long."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Obama should crack some heads and get the job done. Yeah, right.

Posted by: pol on February 3, 2010 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

I second the concern that this seems like a recipe for failure. But you know what? Nancy's been one of the best *leaders* throughout this whole process. The fact that she wants to see some leadership from the Senate before committing her troops seems laudable to me.

The Senate's really where most of our scorn should be directed over this.

Posted by: Comrade Jake on February 3, 2010 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

This is the final game of Hot Potato. HCR will not pass and the Senate and House will blame each other as they all run for cover waiting for the mid-term elections.

Posted by: Mr. Prosser on February 3, 2010 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Someone on another thread posted about the budget woes of Colorado Springs. It's an interesting story. Is this what our country will become if the tea partiers prevail?

Posted by: Marilyn on February 3, 2010 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

The bell is tolling for HCR. I feel bad for Pelosi -- no one has worked harder, with such feckless back-up from the Senate and the White House, to face the real possibility she'll lose her gavel in November. She's going down in grand Alamo style, though.

Posted by: BrklynLibrul on February 3, 2010 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

It reminds me of a story related on The West Wing. Apocryphally, a freshman Democratic congressman comes to the leadership and says, "Where are the Republicans? I want to see the enemy." And the wise old Speaker says, "The Republicans are not the enemy; they're the opposition. The Senate is the enemy."

Gah. It feels like Lucy won't have to pull the ball away, because Charlie Brown can't even tie his shoes.

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on February 3, 2010 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

I still wish they would just pass the damn bill. Nothing would light a fire under some senators' butts like the bill becoming law, warts and all. THEN they might discover a need to move a little faster on improving it.

Posted by: dr2chase on February 3, 2010 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

More and more, I am thinking that anonymous Dem staffer was right ("they -- the electeds -- are relieved (because they wouldn't be expected to do anything now, after the Mass Senate election)).

But I think, they are relieved, not because of lowered expectations, but because they wrongly think that doing nothing defuses Rethug attack since they would have no ammunition -- but this is stupid: because the Rethugs have a megaphone in the media and can every attack stick, whether justified or not.

That even the Dems cannot act for the greater good is the stunning/depressing revelation of these past 3 years -- so many missed opportunities...

Posted by: Radha on February 3, 2010 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

Ah Nancy. Forever the optimist. Stick a fork in it, it's done. You pissed away everything the public wanted in HCR. Now go away.

Posted by: buddym on February 3, 2010 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

So much of the discussion on HCR passage focuses on the tactical positions of the House, Senate and WH. Pelosi's point about the House rejecting the Senate bill is more than that, however. The bill is unpopular with Dem voters who want more. As we witnessed in the period between Lieberman's apostasy and Scott Brown's election, telling the House and the base that they need to get in line did not work. Time for a new strategy from the WH and the Senate and that strategy should focus on the policy that's in the bill and fixing it.

Posted by: angler on February 3, 2010 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

Pelosi is the only Democratic leader with any span, and the only one who's demonstrated that she can actually pass good legislation.
really pathetic to read so many teabaggers and firebaggers on this thread gloating at the possible defeat of the best comprehensive reform we can hope for.
people continue to die and go bankrupt by the thousands every month due to lack of insurance--glad so many so called "progressives" are rejoicing over this. MORONS.
yeah, they'll go back and pass a "better" bill with a Republican majority or much larger minority, that's the ticket. MORONS.
no slither back to FDL and congratulate yourselves. MORONS.

Posted by: whatever on February 3, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Marilyn @ 8:27, I’m not privy to the post of which you speak, but I am a resident of Colorado’s 5th congressional district and live just outside the Colorado Springs city limit. Yes, the city has a budget issue and stories of reduced city services are a current topic.


In spite of city services cuts, I don’t get the sense that the electorate really gives a shit. This is a very conservative district and home to Dobson’s Focus on the Family and their groupie minions. Doug Lamborn (idiot extraordinaire) is our house representative and is unopposed in the upcoming election. We also have the distinction of being host to Douglas Bruce, a rabid but successful crusader against taxes of any stripe.


I believe our current budget is a perfect nexus of city needs vs. tax hatred. If this is the touchstone of Tea Party dogma, then I guess we qualify. But this issue predates their formal appearance.

Posted by: Chopin on February 3, 2010 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps someone (Obama? Bueller?) could get Harry and Nancy and their teams in a room and remind them that EVERY FRICKIN DAY this thing drags on the Party, and the entire DC process, loses more credibility in the eyes of the public. This, this very thing, the drawn-out maneuvering and blather, is EXACTLY what people are tired of, and what they were hoping Obama would change.

Yes, people wanted a change in policy, but much more they wanted a change in the PROCESS.

They really don't get that, do they?

Posted by: biggerbox on February 3, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

You keep saying the House should do this, the Senate should do that. What you mean is the House Democrats should do this, Senate Democrats should do that.

The Democrats have complete control over whether HCR passes. Pass the damn bill.

Posted by: jb on February 3, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I would suggest that the white house, as it is currently structured, has not the experience to lead the house and senate past this impasse. Obama comes from the legislature, but lacks depth of experience. Emanuel suffers from a similar shallowness of experience, coupled with an apparent excess of hubris.
Think about the contrast of this white house with that of Lyndon Johnson.

Posted by: rbe1 on February 3, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Agree with many of the complaints above. But sheer lack of historical perspective demonstrated by Congressional Dems carping about this or that obstacle in pushing the package through is most galling. HCR is such a huge deal that member concerns and institutional preferences should be easily overcome. But of course that's not the case. I sympathise with Pelosi and have gained much respect for her during this process, and agree Senate Dems have dropped the ball in too many ways to count, but if House has to act first to get it done then so be it.

Posted by: Bill on February 3, 2010 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

PELOSI: "Our members will not support the Senate bill. Take that as a fact."

Hallelujah !

And if the Senate doesn't act to pass the needed "improvements" first, then the House should start passing the really popular segments of healthcare reform one by one every few days, and either the Senate passes them under reconciliation, or it bears the responsibility.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 3, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with dr2chase that the House has more leverage to work a deal after they vote for the Senate bill than they do now. I was very disappointed that Pelosi said the House would not vote first, but she has been the only real leader getting results in this fiasco. She will get far more done than that diminutive ballet dancer with the Napoleon complex who thinks screaming obscenities at people is leadership.

Posted by: Th on February 3, 2010 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK


The House would have ZERO leverage after they pass the current Senate bill.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 3, 2010 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Chopin, thanks for the insight. I remember reading about the evangelical wave descending on that area of the county and, after reading the comments on the Denver Post article, looked up Douglas Bruce. It does seem to be a very conservative area. Is there a sense of civic pride? Will they pick up the trash and mow the green spaces? Will the crime rate go up when the lights go down? The unintended consequences should be interesting.

Posted by: Marilyn on February 3, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Seuss might have a tale of caution for Ms. Pelosi:


Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 3, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

The Senate is simply dithering; fear obviously.
The President has vast powers that are conditionally granted in the event of a nuclear attack, so it most certainly is not impossible to pass legislation that only goes into effect when certain conditions are met.
The Senate could frame the legislation as a budgetary amendment to the original bill and pass it via reconciliation; the changes most needed are budgetary-related anyway. The House would then pass the original Senate bill and the amendment immediately after.
Of course, if Reid is relying on the parliamentarian put into place under the Republicans, that would explain a lot...

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