Dissenting View

A TPM alum thinks things look brighter for reform than I’m letting on …

TPM’s coverage during the health care debate has been fantastic (Brian Beutler is really making his name right now), but I think the main page’s coverage is overhyping the news in some key areas. Pelosi’s statement today for example, was not anything particularly new: we already knew Senate bill was dead without changes, hence the parallel reconciliation idea floated by the unions. Saying the House can’t rubber stamp the Senate unless changes are made is a negotiating posture, not declaring things dead or over. We have yet to see any mass defection from the “pass the senate plus reconciliation” option in the House, which is actually very encouraging for HC’s chances, especially given that the most relevant players — AFL-CIO and SEIU, Kent Conrad, Reid, Pelosi, Frank — are theoretically on board for the idea.

Similarly with Howard Dean, he has to be evaluated from his negotiating position as well. Remember that Dean was the face of the “kill the bill” movement that argued the legislation should to go to reconciliation entirely even BEFORE Brown’s election. That he interprets anything from Pelosi as a call for his previously stated cause shouldn’t be a shock.

Newspapers have been making this mistake too in their headlines, especially parsing Obama’s statements, to wildly oversell vague quotes as sweeping new pronouncements about new scaled-back bipartisan compromises. But the reality is that things have been shockingly calm in the last 24 hours given the circumstances. And for all the rage directed at Obama for his passivity, by changing the subject to a new Glass-Steagall, he (and John Edwards and Justice Roberts) have already ended the “health care death watch” in the 24/7 media and newspaper front pages, which is crucial to keeping skittish lawmakers from panicking. Health care is still in extreme danger, but its still critically important to be wary of early pronouncements of its death.

I wrote this in response …

I half agree with you. Maybe half. Where I think we’re not on the same wavelength is that I think even short delays will not be recoverable. Yes, in a sense that’s what Pelosi was saying. But I think the nuance was more discouraging than you suggest. And I think morale is so in the balance with the folks on Capitol Hill that I think the situation is worse than you suggest. I have not given up that they’ll make this happen. But I think the ground is much less fertile.

As I said, I think there’s still a chance this will happen. At some level I cannot quite get my head around the idea that the congressional Democrats are going to commit mass political suicide by letting it not happen. But as I’ve said before in different contexts, I think there’s a basic disconnect here between literalism and meta-politics. Yes, in theory the building blocks are there. Maybe. But every hour the key players — the president, the Speaker, etc. — don’t make it clear that they’re going to push through a comprehensive reform bill but rather signal uncertainty or indifference, the fear and demoralization grows and it becomes less possible to recover. The people who are running for the exits are motivated by fear and uncertainty. Time and more uncertainty makes that worse.