The Center for American Progress is the most influential Democratic think tank in Washington. It’s president, John Podesta, led the Obama administration’s transition effort, and the organization–which provides legislators and politicos everything from policy analysis to messaging and strategy–is tightly linked with the White House and Democratic members of Congress. So it may come as a surprise, that with Democrats on the Hill struggling to find a way out of the health care mess, CAP itself isn’t chiming in.
In the days since last week’s special election in Massachusetts, which cost Dems their 60th, filibuster-breaking vote in the Senate, TPMDC has tried to answer a simple question: How does CAP, as an institution, think House and Senate Democrats should proceed. We still don’t have an answer. Numerous calls to CAP officials over the last several days went unreturned.Democrats and their allies have no shortage of ideas about how the party should break the logjam. Some say the House should pass the Senate bill, and amend it in a separate bill. Others think they should break the Senate bill into smaller parts and try to pass those individually. One CAP analyst told the Financial Times, “It now looks extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get anything resembling a broad health care bill out of Congress…. In his State of the Union, Obama has to slim down his ambitions. It should be short and simple and focus on jobs.”
But there’s no indication whatsoever that this is the institution’s official position–and the group’s silence reflects a growing sense that the Democratic party machinery was unprepared for the Massachusetts fallout, and is still unsure how the year long push for health care reform will play out.
After all, it’s not as if CAP is shy about taking official positions on major issues. Just this month, Podesta himself stepped into the controversy over whether Democrats’ private health care deliberations should be aired on C-SPAN. (Podesta broke with Democrats and members of his staff to argue that party leaders should broadcast their meetings publicly.)
We may have more clarity soon. Tomorrow, CAP and Podesta will host a roundtable discussion on “the tremendous challenges facing the American economy, job creation, health reform, and the role of the American labor movement in rebuilding a sustainable economy for all working families.”
Senior Democrats say the party doesn’t have time on its side–they must figure out a way forward quickly. And unfortunately for them, this comes at a time when their go-to messaging and policy people are just as confused as they are.