Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 22, 2010

WATCH BOTH CHAMBERS.... In general, it seems most of the talk about the fate of health care reform focuses on the Senate. To be sure, that makes some sense -- in light of Republicans' refusal to allow the Senate to vote, up or down, on key bills, it's the chamber that seems more likely to kill legislation.

With reconciliation now on the front-burner, the question becomes whether enough Senate Democrats can stick together and secure a majority.

But let's not forget that the House, which would be required to approve the Senate bill and a legislative fix, is facing a heavy-lift, too. The assumption that the House will be far less of a problem for reform proponents may prove to be wrong.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has signaled to the White House that it's unclear if there are enough votes in the House to pass the Senate bill.

The House version passed in November by a vote of 220-215, but since then three "yea" votes have vanished: Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Florida, retired; Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., passed away; and Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-Louisiana, has signaled he will not vote for the final bill.

That puts Pelosi in a starting-off point of 217 votes which is a majority of the current 433-member House of Representatives, but is also a tough starting line.... Pelosi believes passing the bill is "possibly doable," the senior White House official said. "But she may ultimately decide the math is impossible."

There are 255 House Dems, but among them are plenty of opponents of their party's reform efforts. There are Blue Dogs, who may or may not be more inclined to vote for a more moderate bill along the lines of the Senate plan, and there are liberals like Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) who've said they'll oppose Democratic plans that fall short of single-payer.

Moving forward, then, reform advocates will have plenty of phone calls to make -- to both chambers -- and the burden will be on President Obama and congressional leaders to pressure rank-and-file members to get this done. The pitch to Democratic members is probably pretty obvious -- I seem to recall a certain strategy memo a blogger wrote last month -- but antsy lawmakers, some of whom foolishly think failure is less scary than success, may need some reminders.

The alternative is the death of health care reform for another generation.

Steve Benen 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Comments

Plan B, Paragrapht1: Barack does his best LBJ impersonation for a week or so, and surprise surprise, Nancy's got a nice new buncha cooperative Dim votes...

Posted by: neill on February 22, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Barack ain't doing any LBJ or FDR impersonations. More like Neville Chamberlain or Millard Fillmore impersonations.

Posted by: gdb on February 22, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

"The alternative is the death of health care reform for another generation."

As a Canadian, perhaps it is impossible for me to understand the American psyche. Objectively, the US health care system is ranked 37th in the world, (the Canadian 30th). First, some opponents simply argue that the US system is NO 1.This is countered by saying the system is broken, or can't be afforded;
however, it is politically impossible for any proponent of HCR to actually address this directly.

If HCR fails to be enacted, why wait a generation, why not start by setting up a commission to investigate a number of the systems which rank as the best in the world? Turn this into election plank for 2012/2106?

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on February 22, 2010 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

there us ZERO chance that the progressives vote against this bill. Nada. Nil. To kill this bill now is just as much about the success of a left-Center Obama presidency against a neo-troglodyte GOP obstructionist agenda. No passage and ALL dems are vulnerable. I think that is the 1994 message that all are hearing. Now, I think many Blue Dogs will still vote against it because they truly are from more conservative districts, but not the progressives.

In fact, the more votes the dems get the stronger the future push for better legislation, perhaps almost resembling progressive.

eric

Posted by: eric on February 22, 2010 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Although I became disenchanted with Tom Friedman of the NYT sometime back around the middle of the Iraq invasion, I can't help admiring the closing line of his column today.

"If Obama fails, we all fail".

Keep that in mind, while you're trying to hammer him into the dirt. You're right down there with him.

Posted by: Mark on February 22, 2010 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Kucinich will vote Yes on a final bill. There is absolutely no whiff of a question on that.

Posted by: Ohioan on February 22, 2010 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

"As a Canadian, perhaps it is impossible for me to understand the American psyche."

The American psyche can be summed up in the notion that we kicked y'all's bums in hockey and don't really care that much. That actually says a lot.

But seriously, I think you're ignoring some pretty big systemic differences between the US and Canadian political systems. Once crucial difference:

Your Senate is essentially a House of Lords, where elder statesmen and the like are appointed for life because they're wise.

Our Senate purposely overrepresents the podunk regions of our country, who tend to think in terms of parochial interests instead of the national good.

... and let's not even talk about the difference between a PM and a president.

In essence, the whole world has provincial people who don't want to get involved in the problems beyond their towns. Most of the world marginalizes them.

Here in the States, those people have a lot more political and cultural power than anywhere else.

There are, of course, pros and cons to this arrangement, but that's how it is here until someone changes it.

Posted by: itstrue on February 22, 2010 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

The Dim-Dems may not realize it, but their continued existence is on the line over HCR. Failure to pass even a tepid HCR bill will bring disaster at the polls in November. Both parties are completely detached from their constituencies, for different reasons, but if the Dim-Dems don't understand what is at stake, and continue to behave like bought-and-paid-for drones, they are finished. And deserve to be.

It's becoming clearer by the day that Obama is no LBJ or FDR. Unless and until he realizes that bipartisanship is a non-starter, and that he must govern from strength not weakness, he will continue to neutralize himself as a political force. Even the moron Bush managed to do better in the sense that even in weakness he got what he wanted and all of it was bad for the country.

The teabaggers may split the Rethugs (hopefully), but the corrupted Dim-Dem majority is also feeding a split on the other side, and that will leave the political landscape in uncharted territory for quite some time. Prime soil for a demagogue to germinate and emerge from the grassroots. A strongman promising to fix it all.

It's depressing as hell.

Posted by: rRRk1 on February 22, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

and there are liberals like Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) who've said they'll oppose Democratic plans that fall short of single-payer.

Dennis? Love ya, man, but it's time to take one for the team. Don't screw this up.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on February 22, 2010 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

What the White House has proposed is basically the horrible Senate bill, and it still has a tax on the Middle-class that is merely delayed.

If this passes, the Democrats will get mowed down in November.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 22, 2010 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Quaker in a Basement wrote: "Dennis? Love ya, man, but it's time to take one for the team. Don't screw this up."

It isn't progressive House Democrats like Dennis Kucinich who have "screwed this up" with their courageous, compassionate and principled advocacy of universal, nonprofit health insurance under open, accountable, efficient public administration.

It's the corporate-stooge Senate Democrats who have "screwed up" health care reform by turning it into corporate welfare for the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 22, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

itstrue
Thanks for your response, but you didn't address the 2 issues I raised:
Why can't proponents of HCR shout "we don't want to be #37";- I understand why the podunksters don't know or care about the rest of the world, but I would have thought more need to inform the them and that they would be scandalized by USA not being #1, or even in the top 30.
and if HCR fails this year, why not set up a some kind of commission to study the better systems in the world with a view to going at it again in 2012/2016 election

As to the issues you raised:
-hockey- we'll see how the playoffs work, but certainly Ryan Miller was outstanding as Canada dominated the game.

-Senate: Canada's isn't wisemen who go to our Senate but is a good way to get rid of deadwood dispense patronage and/or reward political service rather than giving ambassadorships. we also now have compulsory retirement from the Senate at 75.

- I well understand the difference between President and PM, but am amazed by how frequently Americans think their President should operate as if he was Prime Minister and seize control of the legislative process.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on February 22, 2010 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

itstrue wrote: "Our Senate purposely overrepresents the podunk regions of our country, who tend to think in terms of parochial interests instead of the national good."

Our Senate overrepresents America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. who tend to think in terms of ruthless, relentless, rapacious, reactionary greed instead of the national good.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 22, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

"What the White House has proposed is basically the horrible Senate bill, and it still has a tax on the Middle-class that is merely delayed.

If this passes, the Democrats will get mowed down in November."


Yeah, that seems to be the big Con meme going around right now. Apparently the Dems are pushing this through over the objections of an alleged majority of Americans.

You know what, though? I'm willing to take the chance that a good many of those who disapprove of the bill as it is currently do so because they feel it doesn't go far enough. A lot of Cons would like to think that the people polled are against it for the same reasons they are, but the fact that the public option has polled well kinda undercuts that.

So I'd rather see the Dems take whatever lumps they're gonna take in November for passing this than the other way around. I have a feeling that whatever losses they take for succeeding will be less than for failing.

Posted by: EriktheRed on February 22, 2010 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Johnny Canuck-- I gave a couple of buddies of mine out in Vancouver big ups for their golds earlier, and felt due for a little schadenfreude for north of the border. Regardless, hope to see you in the finals, bud.

My point about the Senate's differences is that the Canadian senate doesn't write much legislation; they mostly follow the lead of the House, whereas our two chambers more or less compete. The Canadian Senate appoints its members according, in some small part, to population-- Nunavut gets one senator out of 105 and they don't do a hell of a lot. Down here, Wyoming gets two out of 100 and they sit on key health committees.

By training, I'm a public health guy myself, and get peeved at my nation's #37 ranking. People care about US superiority only as it pertains to the outside world: economic, military, musical. They really don't care about how our internal issues rank with everyone else.

The only answer I ever hear to that one is a rote recital of "People here say we have the best health care in the world." That may be true in the sense that Italy has the fastest, most badass sports cars in the world. Problem is most people here drive FIATs, and they don't know any different. Most of the time the car gets them where they need to go, so why mess with it? There's nothing scientific or policy-minded about it.

As for 2012 or 2016, we're already in the throes of major policy fatigue vis-a-vis health care. I'm a health care policy guy and *I'm* sick of it. If they don't pass it this time around, the guys who care (Democrats) will surely be massacred at the polls. Conservative wave of victory + Liberal gasp of defeat = toast.

In my view, the momentum of the moment leads to three possibilities: 1. reform now, 2. reform in 15 years after *another* GOP revolution or 3. reform upon total collapse of the system.

That's what we're looking at south of the border. This is make-or-break for anyone who cares about the state of health care in America, or who is even a little left-of-center and wants to get on with our agenda.

Unlike hockey victories, America needs this. Wish us luck!

Posted by: itstrue on February 22, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

If this passes, the Democrats will get mowed down in November.

Just keep repeating that over and over and fucking over despite a mounting body of evidence to the contrary. The fact is, Dems will take a hit in November either way. If they don't pass a healthcare bill, the available data indicates they get hit much, much harder.

Posted by: ernesto p. on February 22, 2010 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't progressive House Democrats like Dennis Kucinich who have "screwed this up" with their courageous, compassionate and principled advocacy of universal, nonprofit health insurance under open, accountable, efficient public administration.

No, they haven't screwed it up with their advocacy. But they will screw it up if they won't vote for the final bill because it offends their purity or something.

It may seem heroic to go down fighting, but it's not Kucinich and other progressives who will go down if they defeat the bill. It will be people, lots of them, who need this to pass.

Courage and compassion? Compassion means helping people instead of striking useless poses, and courage means doing that even if your ideological soulmates get angry at you.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on February 22, 2010 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect that Nancy Pelosi has more Democratic votes in her pocket that she can pull out to get to 51% when the times comes. This allows various Blue Dogs and Progressives to vote no while still putting the bill over.

My biggest worry is Stupek, not Kucinich (if Elizabeth can (excuse the image) whip him into line I don't think civilization can stand).

Posted by: Lance on February 22, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

ernesto,

Just keep repeating that over and over and fucking over despite a mounting body of evidence to the contrary.

Where ?

The evidence is exactly the opposite.

A mandate without a Public Option is massively unpopular. The Middle-class tax on healthcare policies is massively unpopular. The penalty for not purchasing healthcare is massively unpopular, and the latest White House plan increases the penalty.

Political suicide.

Posted by: Joe Friday on February 22, 2010 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

itstrue:"They really don't care about how our internal issues rank with everyone else." The great irony of which, as Obama has pointed out, is that having such an inefficient and costly system is a tremendous drag on the American economy.
From my perspective US is already lucky to have Obama as President. Someone who is willing to look more than 8 years into the future. I think he'll pull it off.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on February 22, 2010 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Johnny C: Hey, you're preaching to the choir here. We finally have someone in office who's thinking about the long game. Maybe once people start seeing some benefits from it they'll warm to the idea.

I actually do a lot of work trying to sell the idea of health care as a boon to the business set. You have to spend money to make money... Unnecessary ER visits are dumb and unprofitable... No wonder GM's got so many plants in Ontario, etc...

I think that the economic argument is more likely to get traction here in the States before a health ranking ever will.

People here are generally very moral, that's often underestimated by outsiders. What we lack is a common morality. So we use money as cultural esperanto, making us look callous from the outside. What we really are is fractious from the inside. My 2 cents (that's 2.2 Canadian ones, give-or-take).

Posted by: itstrue on February 22, 2010 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

The liberal members of the house made their objections, and the most offensive parts of the senate bill have been cleaned out. No way were liberal House members going to accept the product of the corrupt and dysfunctional Senate as a necessary evil. Every change by the WH to the senate bill is a net positive and the House can indirectly take credit for having refused to eat the senate's crap sandwich and forced the WH to draw up this version. They will vote for it.

The interesting thing is that the WH is being masterfully bipartisan - if you define the political poles as "House Dems" and "Senate Dems". And in the environment that the Republicans have created, there is a debate, Obama has given it some room, and is now stepping in to call the fight.

So yeah, Obama is no FDR, but I still think his approach - should it succeed- has been smart and hard for Repubs to target, and that the emergence of a WH proposal now is great timing. Repubs know they are being railroaded, but what can they do, really, besides echo the same shopworn complaints that, even as they linger, are being revealed for their total lack of workable ideas.

Right now I'm flying high on all this. The liberals and blue dogs have been a credit to each other, the repubs are out in the cold, and the WH has been a decisive voice without trampling congress or giving any additional ground in the face of knee-jerk criticism.

Posted by: anselm on February 22, 2010 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

What is this bullsh*t, "The alternative is the death of health care reform for another generation"?

If you believe that unless we reform health care, the fate of the nation is determined (bankruptcy, personal and nationally), then the alternative is to remove the bastards standing in the way of single payer and make Medicare For All a reality.


Posted by: LavaLennie on February 23, 2010 at 3:48 AM | PERMALINK
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