Was Evan Bayh right about health reform? When?
I'm a big fan of Sen. Evan Bayh's critique of the U.S. Senate. But I'm a bit confused by his critique of the 111th Congress's accomplishments. Responding to the results of the recent midterm election, he wrote:
We also overreached by focusing on health care rather than job creation during a severe recession. It was a noble aspiration, but $1 trillion in new spending and a major entitlement expansion are best attempted when the Treasury is flush and the economy strong, hardly our situation today.
That's hard to square with what Jon Alter reported back in February:
As I learned in reporting for my upcoming book, The Promise: President Obama, Year One, out in May, White House aides David Axelrod and Jim Messina visited the Senate just before the August recess last year and left feeling much better after hearing from Bayh. He made them feel that the politics of getting reelected demanded passage of the bill, which at the time looked iffy. "We're all screwed if you don't get something real on health care," Bayh told them. This made Axelrod and Messina think that the moderates would be on board.
The two statements aren't impossible to reconcile: Maybe Bayh thought the politics favored passing a bill then, but he's reconsidered that judgment as the months have gone by. Still, it's a reminder that even people like Bayh thought Democrats were more doomed if the bill failed than if it passed. I was one of those people, in fact, and I still think that judgment was correct. The election was pretty bad for the Democrats, but it would've been even worse if the portion of the Democratic base that really cared about the health-care reform bill had gotten demoralized and stayed home.
And all of this ignores the minor matter of the enormous good the bill will do. Read Will Saletan for more on that.
| November 8, 2010; 1:31 PM ET
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