Why Would Democrats Want To Slow-Walk Health Care?

July 17, 2009 1:39 pm

Earlier today, we saw that six Senate centrists, are asking Senate leaders to slow down the pace of health care reform efforts. I’ve explained a number of times why that’s a terrible proposition from the perspective of the President and key Democrats. But there’s a distinct question about why some Democrats–including a guy like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who’d almost certainly vote for anything to come to the floor between now and August–would want to slow things down.

Richard Kirsch, national campaign manager for Health Care for America Now, has some ideas. “They’re trying to become players,” he says. And they can’t become players unless Obama and others stop to ask, “What do you want time for? What are your concerns? How do we make you feel better about this?”

He also cautions, wisely, that each tepid senator will have his or her own reasons for wanting to delay legislation.

But, intentionally or otherwise, their actions all serve the same ends: buying time to weaken the bill, or to make it harder to pass, or to force leadership into a fight over budget reconciliation. And if these are in fact their goals, they can’t, for obvious reasons, give the game away. In fact, they have to be very careful about the entire effort.One of the things that struck me about today’s letter was its tepid language. “We look forward to working with you to develop legislation that is vital to the well-being of the American people and urge you to resist timelines which prevent us from achieving the best results.”

Compare that, for instance, to House Blue Dogs who last week wrote to Democratic leaders to warn them that they “could not support a final product” that fails to address their concerns. With such a huge Democratic majority in the House, it’s harder mathematically speaking for Blue Dogs than for their counterparts in the Senate to become king makers. And that means they can afford to posture more boldly than people like Ben Nelson–because, at this point, with so much on the line, and so much work already done, these senators really will take much of the heat if a bill doesn’t pass, or doesn’t accomplish the key goals of reform.

Which isn’t to say they’ll fold. Obviously the White House isn’t expecting them to. But it’s a delicate dance. They don’t have all the leverage. And, as Obama himself often cautions, it’s easy when your swept up in the news cycle to turn every microdevelopment into a make or break moment for progressive change.

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