President Obama, Democrats and health care reform supporters are giddy today over the House passing its version of reform late last night. It is certainly a big step in the right direction – a bigger one than any administration and Congress has taken since Lyndon Johnson created Medicare in the 1960s.
But I would caution those supporters to not get too giddy. Because there are still several mountains left to climb before this is a done deal.
The next one is in the Senate, which has yet to pass its own version. On paper, this shouldn’t be a problem – the Dems and those caucusing with them control 60 seats and have the Vice President – more than enough to get a simple majority. In practice, however, it’s not nearly that simple.
Senate debate rules require 60 votes to “invoke cloture,” or stop debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote. So Majority Leader Harry Reid actually needs 60 votes to get this done. And there are a number of Democratic caucus members who represent conservative constituencies (or are just in the pockets of the insurance companies) who will be a tough sell to get on board with a public option – one of the most critical parts of any real healthcare reform, in my opinion. This group includes Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut). Lincoln and Bayh are both up for re-election next year. But Lieberman could be an even bigger fly in the ointment – he represents a rather liberal state (which went for Obama by 20 points last year) and votes with the Dems on most social issues. But he voted for the Iraq War and campaigned for Republican John McCain against Obama last year, even speaking at the Republican National Convention.
Reid could get around cloture rules by trying to pass the Senate’s version through budget reconcilliation, where he would need only 50 votes plus Vice President Biden. But this move would require the spending authorization to be renewed after 5 years. If the Republicans were to regain control of the Senate by that point, you know what would happen then.
The bill has already been delayed in the Senate and now may not even get passed this year, breaking President Obama’s second deadline. And if the debate goes into next year, moderate and conservative Democrats who are up for re-election in otherwise Republican districts or states are going to be even more reluctant to get on board.
Even if the Senate passes its version, it will have to be merged with the House version in conference committee. Both chambers will then have to pass the final combined version before President Obama can sign it. Same rules and obstacles will still apply.
So be happy with this step forward. But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet.
I’m sure even Barack Obama’s strongest critics, the ones who never would have even considered voting for him last year, would admit that he is an excellent campaigner. But in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the election has been over for almost a year now. And Obama is no longer Senator Obama, candidate for President. He is President Obama.
Which means he has to lead. And that means it is time for him to take firm positions, no matter what they are or how risky they are.
So far, President Obama has been VERY lacking in this regard. Sure, he can still give an excellent speech and speak colorful words. But when it comes to actually stating where he stands and what he wants, he continues to give wishy-washy responses and hedge his bets. That’s expected, if not ideal, if you’re a candidate and are trying to win over as many as possible. It’s totally unacceptable if you’re a leader and 300 million people, not to mention the government you head, need your direction.
The most recent bit of wishy-washyness that compelled me to write this entry was Obama’s constant refusal to take a clear position on the healthcare reform plans on which he has staked much of his political capital. He campaigned for a public option last year. Now, he won’t say if he wants one or not. Hell, he won’t say what specifically what he wants at all.
I am well aware of the mistake Bill Clinton made in 1993, when he tried to put together the whole thing himself and then force it through Congress. I’m not saying President Obama should go to that extent. And I also know that, given the political divide in this country, no Republican would likely vote for whatever bill eventually goes before both chambers, regardless of whether it has a public option or not. But that’s besides the point, given the Democrats’ majorities in both chambers of Congress.
But President Obama can strike a balance between Clinton’s micromanaging and leaving all of the details up to Congress. I have very little faith in either party in Congress, since both seem to only care about scoring shallow, short-term victories that will help them get re-elected. And that lack of faith has been validated by the way they have dragged this healthcare reform debate on and on for months.
Obama didn’t have to let that happen. He could have said from the beginning that he wanted a public option with elements X, Y & Z, given that mandate to Congress and let them sort out the details for making it work. Or, if he really didn’t want a public option, he should have said that from the beginning too.
Bottom line is that he needed to take a stand either way. He needed to make clear, at least in a general way, what he wanted. He would have made some enemies no matter what he did, to be sure. But leaders have to take stands and accept the consequences if it turns out they took the wrong one. But by not taking a stand, he angered his base, allowed the Republicans to take control of the narrative of the public debate and, most damagingly, left too much decision-making power in the hands of the body of our government that is LEAST suited for making clear decisions.
President Obama has staked much of his credibility on healthcare reform. If he wants to get it done, and he wants the final product to be something that really works and that he can be proud of, he needs stop campaigning for healthcare reform and actually take a position on it.
That’s what leaders do.
President Obama is apparently inviting his cabinet and congressmen over to play on his basketball court at the White House tomorrow night.
Per the linked story, the list of invitees includes Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Representative Mike Arcuri (D-NY), Representative John Boccieri (D-OH), Representative Brad Ellsworth (D-IN), Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Representative Baron Hill (D-IN),
Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA), Representative Frank Kratovil (D-MD), Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA), Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA), Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) and Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC).
Do Eric Cantor, John Boehner and Joe “You Lie!” Wilson have any game?