The health overhaul debate is no longer about policy; it’s all politics now. And the tone at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is becoming increasingly desperate.
Two top political correspondents have the best take on what is going on:
Politico’s chief political correspondent, Mike Allen, quotes White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer in a preview of what Democrats are likely to hear when they meet with President Obama today. He says the president will spell out the stakes in increasingly apocalyptic terms, saying this is the last chance for health reform. “If President Obama doesn't pass health reform, it's hard to imagine another president ever taking on this Herculean task,” Pfeiffer said. “For those whose life's work is reforming health care, this may be the last train leaving the station.”
If Obama does not pass health care in this environment — with 60 senators and a large House majority — no president will ever attempt it again. This is the last chance to reform the system in a comprehensive way. There are people in the middle and on the left who are quibbling over pieces of this. They seem to believe if this bill goes down, there will be a second chance. There won't be. Congress won't come back to health care next year: It will be all jobs. The next president will not stake political capital on this. If Clinton and Obama can't get it done, no one else will try.
And Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner, today explains “why Democrats push health care, even if it kills them”:
In the end, perhaps the most compelling explanation for Democratic behavior is that they are simply in too deep to do anything else. ‘Once you've gone this far, what is the cost of failure?’ asks the [Democratic] strategist [who asked to remain anonymous].
At that point — Republicans will love this — he compared congressional Democrats with robbers who have passed the point of no return in deciding to hold up a bank. Whatever they do, they're guilty of something. ‘They're in the bank, they've got their guns out. They can run outside with no money, or they can stick it out, go through the gunfight, and get away with the money.’
That's it. Democrats are all in. They're going through with it. Even if it kills them.
Finally, Ezra Klein, writing for today’s Washington Post, explains the timing of getting this done, with neither a vote nor an hour to spare.
The Obama administration wants to use the State of the Union as a turning point. Health-care reform would be the shining first year accomplishment, allowing the president to begin the election-year pivot to jobs and the economy and the deficit. But if health-care reform is to pass by early next year, it will have to clear the Senate before the end of this year.
That means Reid has to finish his bill by the end of next week. Moving to the manager's amendment — the ‘deal’ amendment, as it is — will take a few days. Voting to replace the underlying bill with the manager's amendment will take a few days. And then voting on the modified bill will take a few days. Each step is delayed by the day or so required for a cloture vote to ‘ripen,’ and then the 30 hours of post-cloture debate.
So an accelerated schedule would see the first cloture vote called Thursday, with the vote to move to the manager's amendment on Saturday. Cloture would then be called to actually vote on the manager's amendment on Sunday, and the manager's amendment would be approved the following Tuesday, the 22nd. And cloture would be called for the actual bill on Wednesday, Dec. 23rd, with the final vote coming, at the earliest, on Friday, the 25th — Christmas Day.
They may get this done. But with vulnerable senators being reminded back home how unpopular this bill really is, it’s still not a sure thing. There is a lot more wrong with this bill than whether it contains a public option or a Medicare expansion. Centralized control is built into the fabric of the legislation. The American people understand that, which is why its unpopularity grows by the day.
Published in National Review Online: Critical Condition, Dec. 15, 2009.