A Reality Check on Health-Care Reform
My basic experience with Twitter is that you can say a lot in 140 characters. But you can't do a very good job explaining what you just said. For instance, today I tweeted -- and yes, saying that makes me feel like an adorable little songbird -- "Am I the only one not particularly worried about developments with the health-care reform bill? What's surprising here?" A lot of people wanted me to explain that. So here we go.
There is nothing about this moment in the legislative process that was not predictable. Nothing. Zero. Not one statement by one player. Indeed, the single surprising development is that Olympia Snowe is now paying lip service to a public plan. But that's it.
The big news today is that Obama is slipping in the polls. The Washington Post's new poll, for instance, has him slipping all the way down to ... 59 percent? In the Gallup poll, his approval rating has, err, "fallen" from 56 percent to 61 percent. An average in the high-50s and the low-60s isn't necessarily the stratospheric ratings Obama registered in the immediate aftermath of his inauguration. But these are exactly the sort of solid numbers you would have predicted absent any major mistakes.
Congress, similarly, is performing at, or arguably above, expectations. Three separate House committees have agreed on the basic framework of a health-care reform bill. Two of those three have already passed the legislation. In the Senate, the two committees appear to be considering pretty similar bills. The Health Committee has actually passed its legislation already.
What else? It's proving difficult to find consensus on revenues. But that was always going to be true. And if consensus has been elusive, options have been plentiful: There are surtaxes and sin taxes and taxes on health benefits and savings in Medicare and changes to the itemized deduction rules. People can argue about which approach should be preferred. But they cannot argue that no viable approach exists.
The opposition is, as you'd expect, organizing. Republicans are becoming more strident in their criticisms. Industry players are growing nervous and restive. But anyone who didn't expect an eventual fight over the single largest piece of domestic legislation passed in decades was being strangely optimistic. Centrists are making skeptical noises, but their arguments are vague and general. The administration is dangling the IMAC proposal so Blue Dogs and moderates can say they've done something serious on entitlement reform.
Meanwhile, Obama hasn't even showed his hand yet. He hasn't stepped into the process aggressively or given a big speech. He hasn't activated his grassroots network or begun making threats on Capitol Hill. He hasn't pushed. Word is that his involvement begins this week. That is to say, it begins when most of the bills are written, a few of them are passed, and the finish line is in sight. That's quite different from 1994, when Clinton exhausted his political capital long before the legislation was presented to Congress.
Does this mean health-care reform will pass? Or that the final bill will be a glittering accomplishment? Nope! But it is to say that things seem basically on track. They're getting harder in predictable ways. The problems that are arising are problems that everyone knew would have to be solved. The danger was never that we'd get to this place. It was that we wouldn't.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Ron Edmonds.
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