Monday, March 01, 2010

What the %#&@? (Or, what's up with health-care reform? And what are the Democrats doing?)


Earlier today, Major Garrett, Fox News's man in the White House, reported that "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said [that] President Obama will soon propose a health care bill that will be 'much smaller' than the House bill but 'big enough' to put the country on a 'path' toward health care reform," and that, furthermore, "[a] senior administration official told Fox Obama's proposal will be introduced Wednesday."

In other words, bad news for those of us who support meaningful, comprehensive health-care reform and who, because of that, want the Democrats to get it done already (by having the House pass the Senate bill and the Senate patch that bill with improvements through reconciliation).

It seems, though, that Garrett/Fox got it wrong. An update to his story clarifies the point:

White House and Democratic sources hasten to add late today that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not mean to suggest the new plan would constitute a retreat from comprehensive health care reform.

Pelosi spokesman Nadeam Elshami said the speaker was trying to say the new Obama health care proposal would take its policy cues from the Senate health bill and the ideas Obama posted online a week ago.

Elshami did not deny Pelosi's comments about a "much smaller" bill could fairly be interpreted as suggesting a step back from the Senate bill. Instead, Pelosi has come to regard the Senate bill itself as "much smaller" than the House bill, Elshami said.

Well, that's sort of clearer, anyway. TNR's Jonathan Cohn, who has his ear to the ground, clarifies further:

I checked with Pelosi's office, though, and that interpretation seems to be wrong. Via e-mail, spokesperson Brendan Daly says

The Speaker was referring to the compromise between the House and the Senate that the President unveiled last week--not a new smaller bill.  As she has said repeatedly, she is committed to passing comprehensive health insurance reform.

This is consistent with the message Pelosi and her lieutenants sent over the weekend in a series of television interviews.

If somebody is going to back away from comprehensive reform, it won't be Pelosi.

Well, okay. Cohn knows what he's talking about, and I'm hoping he's right. I just don't see how Obama could seriously come forward with an even weaker bill at this point, not with so much of his liberal-progressive base on the verge of abandoning him altogether (he hardly needs to hand the base such a clear final straw), and not given the current state of play, which, as Cohn reports, is that "the odds for passage are higher than they have been at any time since January":

The steady, if slow, progress since the Massachusetts election has been unmistakable. After an initial period of confusion and listlessness, the administration and congressional leadership have made clear their intentions to continue pursuing comprehensive reform rather than scale back their ambitions. (The statements to that effect were particularly strong on the Sunday morning talk shows.) No less important, they have nearly finished working out a compromise between the House and Senate bills, including changes to the Senate bill that can pass through the reconciliation process.

Still unresolved is the question of sequence. The White House and the Senate want the House to pass the full Senate bill first, with reconciliation changes to follow. They believe this is preferable both politically and procedurally. The House has repeatedly rejected the idea: Its members don't trust the Senate to to do its part and actually pass the reconciliation changes.

So it's partly a matter of Democrats getting their act together and figuring out how best to proceed, and partly a matter of putting the 217 (now 216) votes together in the House.

Are the Democrats really so incompetent that they can't get that done -- what with solid majorites on the Hill and one of their own in the White House?

If they can't, and if they therefore insist on committing political suicide, I'm not sure they deserve the privilege of governing.

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