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The Senate Moves In

July 28, 2009

By David Gratzer

Let’s quickly review the Democratic setbacks of the last week: infighting so harsh that the DNC is now taking out ads against some of its own congressmen; a devastating CBO report that shoots down the latest White House plan to save money; a press conference in which the president not only sounded completely unpersuasive and simplistic, but managed to step into a culture war with his musings on a police incident (in which no charges are laid).

The White House will fall short of its goal of the House and the Senate passing health-reform bills by the August recess. And at this point, it’s possible that even in the House—where Democrats have a huge majority—no bill will be passed.

But conservatives and Republicans need to hold back on the celebration. This isn’t 1994.

Writing over at the Enterprise blog, Norm Ornstein makes some solid observations:

Certainly, the odds of a sweeping health plan that turns our current system on its head are near zero. But they have always been near nil. The odds of a major change that does everything candidate Obama asked for during the campaign—and more, since he did not ask for mandated universal coverage—were also never very high, since the cost is simply too much for a debt-strapped, overloaded government to bear right now.

He continues:

But the odds remain high of a significant bill—one that does move towards universal insurance coverage, albeit more slowly; expands the concept of exchanges; finds a credible way, through an enhanced Medicare Commission, to change the cost structure and payment mechanism in that huge program; and also moves toward more emphasis on prevention and coordinated treatment of chronic diseases.

He goes on to note that we shouldn’t be distracted by the drama:

Don’t get too distracted by the sturm und drang of the legislative process—members storming out of negotiating sessions, declaring that it is all over, denouncing their negotiating counterparts, etc. That is typical when the stakes are so high and the time is so compressed. The question is whether Obama and his congressional leaders can find a formula to keep Blue Dogs and liberals inside the tent. He is far better equipped, with a much better political climate, to do so than was Bill Clinton.

What emerges will not be a full loaf, or even a half loaf. But it will be enough to enable the president and his allies to declare victory.

I suspect that Mr. Ornstein is right.

President Obama has faced a series of setbacks, but he still has many advantages. Start with the fact that votes count, and he has plenty of them in the House and the Senate. Don’t forget that many elements of reform—like expanding coverage—remain popular. His opposition—though enjoying a run of good luck—still lacks in the leadership department. And, as AP reports, the lobbyists are on side, big time.

Indeed, the makings of a Senate compromise may already be taking shape.

The debate in the fall will be different. The most controversial aspects of the White House proposals will be jettisoned—is it a coincidence that at last Wednesday’s press conference the President barely mentioned a public plan option, let alone defended the idea?—and we’ll be left with a leaner, meaner proposal.

The odds are the President and his party will find a way to declare victory. In other words, despite the recent setbacks, 2009 will still probably be the year of health reform.

This makes it all the more important for conservatives to think not just about today’s debate, but next year’s, and the year after that. Democrats did just this after 1994, regrouping to expand Medicaid and create SCHIP, as well as honing their arguments—including co-opting conservative rhetoric, as President Obama has done so brilliantly.

Losing this battle doesn’t mean conceding the war and a competitive health-care market—the only meaningful alternative to the rationing found in every other Western country—remains the road less travelled.

Original Source:



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