In the days since the Massachusetts vote, liberal columnists and bloggers urge Democrats to fight one last battle to save Obamacare.
In his Friday column, economist Paul Krugman writes in the New York Times that House Democrats must recognize their “moment of truth.” He implores them to vote for the Senate healthcare bill and “do the right thing.”
47 health policy experts endorsed this position, writing an open letter to the President. In The New Republic, Prof. Harold Pollack of the University of Chicago, one of the letter signers, notes that: “we are so close to enacting a historic reform.”
Former Democratic speechwriter Michael Cohen, writing in the New York Daily News, implores Democrats to act now. He recognizes that they will need to “swallow their pride and vote for the health-care bill that passed the Senate without much change” but suggests it’s all worth it.
These arguments have been echoed across the blogosphere.
As I noted last Tuesday, there are still options on paper to pass Obamacare this year. The most plausible one: to get the House to drop conference negotiations with the Senate, and simply pass the Senate bill. Krugman, Pollock, and Cohen all endorse this approach. It seems that the White House is at least flirting with a variant of the idea.
The reality, however, is that the war is over. Obamacare was lost the moment that the Democrats managed to lose even Massachusetts.
Democrats are still in a state of shock. They shouldn’t be. They spent 2009 crafting bad legislation.
The White House’s determination to swiftly pass health reform, and to pass it along partisan lines, meant that all meaningful policies were abandoned in the process. Health reform was supposed to be about reducing premiums for working Americans; every CBO estimate has suggested that premiums would in fact rise with the proposed legislation. President Obama has spoken time and again about the need to “bend the curve of rising health costs.” The White House half-heartedly embraced ideas that would rein in rising health costs, and then quietly negotiated away these provisions in the different drafts before Congress. Even a federal agency estimated that costs would increase under Obamacare. The promises of greater competition? By the time the Senate finally got around to passing its bill, the national health insurance exchange (modeled after the health benefits enjoyed by members of Congress) was whittled down to 50 unworkable state exchanges.
It should never have gotten to this point. The surprise wasn’t that the people of Massachusetts rejected this problematic legislation – it’s that the White House didn’t put the brakes on the process earlier.
In the coming days, we can expect Democrats to do little. They will blame others for their loss in Massachusetts; they will scheme about the possibility of passing some legislation this year; they will fantasize about a shift in public opinion.
Ultimately, the White House will need to make a decision. Either they abandon all efforts or they reach across the aisle.
In 2009, the President worked with Democrats in order to craft popular and needed legislation to reform American healthcare. By this January, he couldn’t even persuade the people of Massachusetts as to the value of his efforts – in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 3.5 to 1, in a state that he himself won by more than 26% just over a year ago. In other words, while working with his allies, he didn’t achieve anything close to success.
A bipartisan effort, however, won’t give him everything he wants, but it may give him some sensible legislation.
On Wednesday, when he delivers his State of the Union address, we’ll get a first taste of the post-January 19 presidency.
Will he be feisty but irrelevant? Or will we enter into a period of post-partisanship, as he’s promised before?