Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are the Democrats going to capitulate on health care reform?

Hard to say.

=> On the one hand, it's clear that a lot of Congressional Democrats are still in a condition approaching blind panic, either stunned and paralyzed with indecision or else running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. Various bits of evidence floating around lend some plausibility to these predictions from a story in today's New York Times:
With no clear path forward on major health care legislation, Democratic leaders in Congress effectively slammed the brakes on President Obama’s top domestic priority on Tuesday, saying they no longer felt pressure to move quickly on a health bill after eight months of setting deadlines and missing them. [....]

Some lawmakers said they expected that Congress would try to adopt a vastly pared-down bill once they returned to the issue. [....]

Speaker Pelosi has said House Democrats will not simply vote to approve the health care bill adopted by the Senate on Dec. 24, and send it directly to Mr. Obama for his signature. [....]

But a plan to win over House members by making changes to the Senate bill in the budget reconciliation process ran into substantial resistance on Tuesday. [....]

[Senator Evan] Bayh said, “It would destroy the opportunity, if there is one, for any bipartisan cooperation the rest of this year on anything else.”

[JW: An "opportunity ... for bipartisan cooperation"? What planet was he visiting in 2009?]

[....] The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said [....] Mr. Obama should “put the 2,700-page Democrat health care plan on the shelf” and “move toward the kind of step-by-step approach Americans really want.”

Republicans, however, have not come forward with any new proposals, and Mr. McConnell has said he hopes the health care bill is now dead.
If the Democrats go down that route, it would be stupid, disgraceful, cravenly defeatist, politically self-destructive, and disastrous for the country--none of which rules it out as a strong possibility.

=> On the other hand, a report by Greg Sargent, who is usually well informed and reliable on such matters, offers some grounds for possible optimism:
[....] White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told Capitol Hill staffers on a private briefing call that in his [State of the Union] speech tonight, Obama will leave no doubt that his commitment to addressing health care is as strong right now as it was in his September speech, a White House official tells me. [....]

“We’re going to let the President’s words speak for themselves,” is the message Pfeiffer delivered to Hill staff, according to the official. “There will be additional details that he will share tonight [....]

There had been some talk that Obama might call for a scaled-down approach tonight. Others wondered whether he would give the issue short shrift. But both of those possibilities seem unlikely, given what Pfeiffer is telling Hill staff.

As for how strongly Obama will signal is preferred way forward on reform, the devil will obviously be in the “additional details” he offers. But if his speech does in fact reaffirm his commitment to comprehensive reform as his strongly as his September speech did, that could reassure a lot of people.
I guess we'll see.

--Jeff Weintraub