8 a.m. ET: Is health-care reform inevitable?
That question has come to the fore in recent days, as President Obama and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill attempt to navigate a maze full of opposition and entrenched interests to arrive at a reform package. Politics is all about leverage, and for now, the pro-reform forces have it. That's why so many potential opponents of the White House's efforts -- drug companies, hospitals, moderate Republicans -- have been willing to sit down and negotiate on the issue. If health-care reform is inevitable, they'd rather make some sacrifices and have a seat at the table then be caught outside the room when the deal is made.
But what if reform isn't inevitable? What if all those interest groups look at Obama's declining poll numbers and the complicated politics of the Senate and decide there is a better than even chance that nothing will pass this year? Then their incentives change, from trying to shift the bill incrementally in their favor to just opposing it outright. Now, no one is reading the reform movement its last rites yet, but each time a new hurdle rises, its advocates get a little more worried.
Jonathan Cohn writes that "the situation is not dire," but he had hoped and expected reform to be further along by the second week of July than it is. And Cohn is concerned that the House health care bill won't be unveiled today, as originally planned. Ezra Klein frets that the cause has a "public support problem," that "health-care reform isn't simply suffering because the public is overly opposed to some of its revenue raisers. It's suffering because the public is insufficiently supportive of its core." More positively, Michael Kinsley writes "Obama has what one of his recent predecessors used to call 'the big mo.' His popularity still soars. And he seems fearless about overcrowding his agenda." And yet Kinsley advocates that Obama "go for some smaller successes" because passing a sweeping reform package just looks too expensive.
Problems continued to crop up Thursday. In the House, conservative Blue Dog Democrats warned their leadership Thursday that they couldn't support the party's version of health care legislation in that chamber unless changes are made. At the same time, the House's three chairmen on point -- Henry Waxman, Charlie Rangel and George Miller -- all said that they wouldn't necessarily honor the agreements the White House and Max Baucus have been hammering out with hospitals, drug companies and doctors. The House measure is expected to include an income tax increase on the wealthy, which the Senate would most likely oppose. Baucus did include such a tax on a list of more than a dozen possible ways to pay for health care that he presented to Finance Committee members yesterday, but the fact that the list of proposals is so long illustrates how far away the panel is from actually reaching consensus.
Of course, just because consensus is far off doesn't mean it's unreachable. Until now, Obama has been content to step back and let congressional leaders drive the process. At some point soon he could decide to jump directly into negotiations and throw his still-considerable political weight behind a specific plan. And none of the stakeholders inside or outside of Congress has walked away from the table, indicating that no one is willing to place a firm bet against reform quite yet. As Time frames it: "The bottom line will come down to one crucial question: Is it riskier to push for health reform — or to be seen as having stopped it?" For now, anyway, it's still the latter.
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