Posted by: mutantpoodle | November 23, 2009

Leverage

Cartoon by Mark Hurwitt

Now that the Senate has voted – not to pass health care reform, not to shut off debate on health care reform, not to amend health care reform, but merely to allow health care reform to be debated, I’d like everybody on the left to take a step back from the abyss and think about what’s likely to happen next.

Because it’ not going to be pretty.

First off, if the Public Option survives in any recognizable form, it will be a miracle. And if you think it’s because Obama hasn’t done enough arm twisting, let’s consider the arms he’d have to twist.

First, you have Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu.  Annoying as it may be to admit, having a public spat with Barack Obama isn’t going to cost them votes in their next election – far from it.  In fact, the worst thing that could happen to either of them is if Obama praises them effusively as reliable partners on his domestic agenda.

Second, you have Evan Bayh, who still thinks he’s from a red state when in fact it is deep purple.  I don’t sense he’ll stand alone to block health care reform – if the other four come around, he will, too.  As annoying as he is, he’s not going to torpedo this on his own.

And then there’s Joe Lieberman. I don’t know if Joe Lieberman realizes that, politically, he’s dead man walking, but while he’s mendacious, he isn’t dumb, so I think he does.  If he wants another Senate term, blocking health care reform in a deeply blue state is not a good strategy.  But my sense is that we’re witnessing Joe Lieberman’s “Fuck You” tour, and we’re stuck with it for three more years.

So: where does that leave us? With three people who have legitimate political, if not policy, reasons to oppose health care reform, one bland but probably not consequential irritant, and one snake.

Worse, to varying degrees, those five don’t care if there’s ANY health care reform this year. Whereas progressive legislators care very deeply.

If this dynamic occurs when you’re buying a car, you pay sticker price and then some.

Lots of people are throwing tantrums now, claiming Obama didn’t fight hard enough or Reid should have gone straight to reconciliation. If you’re one of them, keep three things in mind.

  1. Putting ALL of health care reform through reconciliation would have been incredibly complicated. Smarter people than me have concluded it couldn’t be done.
  2. Given that, you’re stuck with a 60 card deck with five wild cards.  A victory is getting the best deal result out of that equation you can.
  3. Barack Obama’s history is not one of going for the short-term victories.  He’s always playing the long game.  Now, maybe he has screwed this up royally, but it’s way too early to tell.

My fear is that the Public Option gets compromised away into something so weak it’s meaningless. My hope – and I assume it’s in everyone’s back pocket – is that the Dems pull the Public Option out of the exchanges, pass health care reform without it, and then tack on a Public Option later, using reconciliation.  (Keep in mind that the exchanges nd the Public option aren’t slated to start until 2013 – there’s time to do this.  Also, the Public Option, by it’s nature, is more amenable to reconciliation than the comprehensive bill on the Senate floor now.)  So victory might well be a bill with no public option, with a reconciled version to be added later.

If that doesn’t happen – if we end up with a less effective bill because Harry Reid and Barack Obama weren’t willing to use that weapon – then I think people will have just cause to be pissed.  Because that’s the only real arrow left in their quiver, and it’d be a shame if it was left there when this is all over.

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