Any Republican’ts who weren’t already popping champagne corks over former underwear model Scott Brown’s success at capturing the late Edward Kennedy’s U.S. Senate seat earlier this week now have more reasons to rejoice. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this morning that Democrats in the lower chamber lack the votes necessary to pass the Senate’s compromise health-care reform legislation, quashing hopes--high only a month ago--that reforms sought for more than century in the United States might finally be adopted.
“I don’t see the votes for it at this time,” Pelosi told reporters. “The members have been very clear.”
Unbelievably, President Obama--who said only last summer that “he was willing to be a one-term president” if that’s what it takes to get health-care reform passed--essentially conceded the battle on Wednesday, saying, “Here’s one thing I know and I just want to make sure that this is off the table. The Senate certainly shouldn’t try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated. People in Massachusetts spoke. He’s got to be part of that process.”
Are you kidding, Mr. President? Were a Republican’t in this same position, having lost only one seat in the U.S. Senate, do you really think he would throw in the towel? Admittedly, the fight would probably not be over something as important as health-care overhaul legislation, but I’m confident that even a wrongheaded stumblebum like George W. Bush would not be so considerate of the opposition. There’s absolutely no reason for Democrats to lose their backbones, just because they’ve suddenly lost their 60th vote in the Senate. This should be motivation to step up the fight, not step away from it. The American people elected Obama and his fellow Democrats to Capitol Hill majorities last year, because they believed that Dems could deliver on their promise to enact essential health-care reforms. If the promise is abandoned, then the motivation for keeping Democratic control of Congress disappears with it.
Sure, Obama and the Dems in Congress promise to carry on the struggle. But who’s going to believe them, when they are so willing to snatch failure from the jaws of success?
Ted Kennedy must be spinning in his grave. The moral cause to which he devoted so much time and energy during his almost 50 years in the Senate--winning access to high-quality medical care for all Americans--is suddenly endangered by Democrats who are ready to succumb without taking the last vote they need to fulfill at least part of Kennedy’s dream. All House Democrats have to do is endorse the Senate’s health-care reform legislation, then make improvements through the subsequent budget-reconciliation process. The results would likely fall short of what many progressive members want, but there would at least be a platform to build upon in the future. (The importance of that cannot be discounted. Remember, Social Security and Medicare didn’t pass in the forms we know them today; they also had to be modified over time, just as health-care reform would need to be improved with the passage of years.) To walk away from this opportunity, just as there is victory over the horizon for health-care reform, would be political suicide.
If health-care reform is allowed to fail in this way, making Democrats and the president both look weak--victims of a tyrannical minority on Capitol Hill--voters can’t be expected to believe Dems when they say they’ll keep up the fight. Can you really see lawmakers returning to the subject of health-care reform immediately, when they are also expected to cure the nation’s persistent unemployment and reign in banking abuses?
Prominent Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said earlier today that “moving away from health care would be the worst decision. ‘We can’t talk about it for a year and deliver nothing, that would be a disaster. We should pass it and then we have to go sell it. We have to tell people what is in it.”
She’s absolutely right. Democrats on Capitol Hill as well as in the White House have to deliver on their promises, or their promises mean nothing. And even if they can’t ultimately deliver, for one reason or another, they must at least fight the good fight. They cannot roll over and play dead just because Republican’ts in Massachusetts were more energized to turn out and vote for one of their guys than Bay State Democrats were motivated to endorse Brown’s opponent, state Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Presidential advisor David Axelrod had it right when he said, after the Massachusetts election: “[W]e should finish health care because the caricature of that bill is there and everyone who voted for it will have to live with that. The way to deal with that is to pass the bill and let people see ... the value of it.”
Ezra Klein says it still better in The Washington Post: “Letting this process die is, of course, the worst of all worlds. Democrats have 59 votes in the Senate and almost 260 votes in the House. They brought their [health-care reform] bill to the one-yard line before Scott Brown forced a fumble. Proving yourself unable to govern in that scenario is proving yourself unable to govern. Moreover, it would be staggeringly cruel to the people that this bill is meant to help, and who need this bill’s help. Covering 30 million and protecting countless millions more is not just a talking point. It’s the reason for this whole enterprise. To abandon those people because Brown won in Massachusetts is simply indecent, and would prove the Democratic Party worse than ineffective. It would prove the party unconcerned.”
No wonder Republican’ts are talking again about being able to recapture control of Congress in 2010. If Democrats give up on health-care reform now, they run the decided risk of delivering to the GOP the same sort of successes this November that they enjoyed in 1994. And Obama loses the faith of so many people who backed him in the presidential election of 2008.
The time has come for the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to put aside its egos and petty policy differences, and for the president to step up and prove himself capable of taking this fight to the finish line. They all have a larger goal: to deliver on health-care reform now, while they have it within their reach. That’s essential to keeping faith with the American public, retaining anywhere near their lawmaking majority come the midterm elections, and stopping Obama’s remark about being a one-term chief executive from coming true.
READ MORE: “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Health Care Lite,’” by Timothy Noah (Slate); “In Obama’s First Year, Successes Outweigh Missteps,” by Fred Hiatt (The Washington Post).