Friday, January 22, 2010

Bait and Switch

The edifice of health insurance reform is crumbling, and Democrats are swinging the wrecking ball. The logical path would be for the House to pass the Senate bill, then for each house to pass “clean up” bills to address the differences; the Senate can pass these through the budget reconciliation process to avoid a filibuster. Since this time would normally be spent negotiating differences in conference committee, there’s no real downside.

Except the House doesn’t trust the Senate to do the right thing and wants the Senate to go first. Harry Reid can’t even get 51 of the 58 senators he allegedly leads (not counting Joe Lieberman) to sign a letter pledging to address the House’s concerns after the fact. Their attitude is, “We passed our bill. We’re not going to spend three weeks on some other bill.”

Passing bills is not the purpose of a legislature; governing is. That means doing more than the bare minimum of work calculated not to interfere with fund raising. Members of both houses say how hard they’ve worked on these bills. Bullshit. Some members have worked hard. The great majority have been doing whatever it is they do, waiting for the relevant committees to send them a bill they won’t read so they can check their polls and lobbyists to tell them how to vote.

What is President Obama’s response to the crumbling status of health care reform? He says he’s going to get tough on the big banks. The MO of this administration is now clear, based on its handling of the stimulus and health care battles: lay low, commit to nothing, claim victory if it passes, and walk away if it doesn’t.

Health care reform has been a cornerstone of Democratic philosophy for as long as I can remember, which is a considerable length of time. For all three branches of elected “leadership” to walk away from it this close to success, when success is still within reach, is unconscionable. To paraphrase Ezra Klein in the Washington Post (because I can’t find the link), this is like taking the ball to the one yard-line in an overtime football game, fumbling, then conceding the game. Given the current Democratic majorities, this attitude is prima facie evidence of an inability to govern.

Ted Kennedy’s endorsement was key to putting Obama over the top in the 2008 nomination campaign; Democratic senators will push each other away from microphones to tell what a great friend he was to them. Abandoning the legislative goal most dear to him in the manner in which they’re doing it is shameful, and shows health care reform was only ever important to them when it became convenient to trot it out at campaign time. To abdicate their professed commitments to it, and to him, is disgraceful.

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