Dems Have No Excuse for Failing on Health Care

The single biggest complaint I hear by non-DC insiders is the sheer dysfunction of Washington. Whether it's Jon Stewart's very funny interview with Joe Biden the other day, or bloggers attacking Harry Reid for not just wrapping the health care issue up by going to reconciliation, people not involved in the day to day DC maneuvering and negotiating don't understand why all this is so hard and takes so long. Insiders get very grumpy about this attitude, because they have to deal every day with the complications of the Senate procedural rules, the egos and turf battles of the powerful committee chairs, and the traditions and clubbiness of the Senate.

I have a lot of sympathy for people on both sides of the divide. Having served in the White House, and been in DC for 17 years now, I know how hard it is to get things done in this town. And having read my share of history books, I know how hard it is to get big things done in general - it just doesn't happen very often, and it is never ever easy or painless. But I also know this: if Democrats don't deliver now, there will be no excuses. They have to find a way to deliver the goods. History, the media, activists, and voters will offer them no mercy if they can't get health reform done this time around.

So if failure is not an option, and there are four holdout Democrats in the Senate blocking the way to getting a reform bill the rest of the Democratic Party can live with, what is to be done?

A lot of people, including me, have been saying for a while that those four Senators would probably eventually force Reid to use the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes, and in the end they still might because there might be no other option. But a lot of the more liberal Democrats in the Senate (including Harkin, Rockefeller, and Schumer) have started arguing against that option. Their reasons include that the bill would have to be dramatically scaled back to fit within the reconciliation rule, the process would likely be slowed down making pending legislation tougher to pass, and that the bill would have to be referred to Kent Conrad's rather conservative budget committee where all kinds of bad things might happen to it. There are also an undetermined number of otherwise more progressive Senators such as Robert Byrd and Russ Feingold who believe putting health care in reconciliation violates the spirit of reconciliation rules, and would vote against the bill on principle.

These are pretty compelling arguments, so my view is that progressives should not be demanding that Harry Reid put this bill through the reconciliation process. In the end, he may have no other choice, but to demand that before he has had the chance to pursue every other option makes no sense to me. To say Harry Reid - or the President or anyone else - can just force the bill through no matter what is simply not true. The American government, just doesn't work that way. Not even LBJ, the greatest leg-breaker the Senate and Presidency have ever seen, could government by fiat - even with huge Democratic majorities he had to compromise on a range of issues to get things done.

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