Republicans Will Be Toast in 2010 If the Dems Pass Health Reform, and They Know It

Personal Health

If President Barack Obama succeeds in signing a major health care reform bill into law -- one that provides a public plan for people currently priced out of the system -- he will achieve what at least three presidents before him had hoped for, and failed to do. And he will likely deprive the Republican minority in Congress from anything approaching a comeback in the 2010 midterm elections.

However, if health care reform does not pass early in Obama's term, the Democrats will likely face midterm elections amid rising unemployment figures with a record of having passed legislation characterized as "bailouts" for megabanks and large corporations -- bills whose benefits to the economy have little impact on the person who has already lost a job.  So GOP leaders are focused like a laser beam on stopping health-care reform in its tracks.

As Congress cleared two major hurdles last week toward agreement on the provisions in such a bill, the Republican pique approached a new level of shrillness.

Just as two committees in the House of Representatives passed a jointly crafted bill for a future floor vote, and an important Senate committee passed a version that is reconcilable with the House bill, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., showed the GOP hand. On a conference call with a group of right-wing operatives, according to Politco's Ben Smith, DeMint said, "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." (He was talking to members of Conservatives for Patients' Rights, some of the people sponsoring those right-wing tea-bag protests.)

Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., backpedaled a bit when confronted with DeMint's comments. "Look, my goal is not to stop the president," McConnell told host David Gregory. "My goal is to get the right kind of health care for America. And the direction in which the president and the majority in the House and Senate want to take this is the wrong direction. What we hope to do is to have enough time here for people to truly understand what's going on."

By "enough time," what McConnell really meant, say many observers, was "enough time" to kill the bill. Any legislation as complicated as health care reform relies on the buy-in of many congressional committees and competing interests.

Democrats still have a ways to go in getting a final bill ready for passage in both the House and Senate. But last week's committee votes, combined with the seal of approval for the House bill from the powerful American Medical Association (which long opposed any sort of public option), as well as the progressive coalition known as Health Care for America Now, apparently put the fear of God into Republicans who, for the first time, saw a possibility that Obama could win this major prize.

Yet, because of the numbers of stakeholders and committees it takes to craft a final bill, the longer the process drags on, the more likely it is that those who signed on early will peel off before a bill gets to the floor, where the Republicans do not have the votes to stop passage.

McConnell's "enough time" act derives from the good-cop script on health care reform. But for those unconvinced by a facsimile of concern for "getting it right," there's the bad-cop script from which DeMint and Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele are reading. It's a script written during the election by leaders of the far right -- by people like Howard Phillips of the U.S. Constitution Party -- who hope to scare the American people into believing that Obama is un-American in the literal and figurative sense and that his health-care plan is just a nefarious scheme to remake America's mighty capitalist system into something foreign and evil.

It's a narrative designed for those old enough to remember the Cold War, i.e., people old enough to be eligible for an AARP membership card. (You're sent an offer on your 50th birthday.) And older people tend to worry far more about health care than do the young.

Reviving a theme from the presidential campaign, Steele referred to the president's plan as "socialist" and, according to the Associated Press, said "the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and key congressional committee chairmen are part of a 'cabal'."

In a sign of desperation, Steele, who is supposed to represent the mainstream establishment party, is singing from the same hymnal as such discredited conspiracy theorists as former U.N. Ambassador Alan Keyes (who was defeated by Obama in his 2004 bid for a U.S. Senate seat), who has launched a lawsuit (with the help of some compromised lawyers, according to the Washington Independent's David Weigel) challenging the validity of the president's birth certificate.

This article has been corrected: "The article originally said that all three House committees had passed the health care bill out of committee.  In fact, only two have -- the Energy committee has delayed its vote.

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