Sunday, November 08, 2009

Pelosi and Obama, Triumphant

Before Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck have a chance to proclaim Saturday night's passage in the House of Representatives of a health care bill, sponsored by Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, a loss for President Obama (and perhaps his party), let us ponder the enormity of this political triumph.

It was a major political victory for the President and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Passage in the Senate of its own bill, though likely, is not certain; and the nearly almost progressive bill passed in the House thereafter probably will be eviscerated in conference. But if the forces of reform in the country (U.S. Representatives, the public, special interest groups) were on balance strongly arrayed in favor of improving health care, the victory would be unimpressive.

However, given opposition of the insurance industry and dependence of members of Congress upon its largesse, the narrowness of the favorable vote accrues even more to the credit of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Pelosi. The effective vote was nearly as close as possible. The bill officially passed 220 to 215. However, the lone Republican- Joseph Cao of New Orleans, Lousiana- approved the bill only when the vote was 218 to 213, passage was assured, and many House Democrats had erupted in applause. As Cao voted "aye" only after it was a "done deal," it appears he voted in the affirmative only because passage would have ensued even without his vote. Nevertheless, the Congressman's assent was a feather in the cap for both President Obama and chief-of-staff Emmanuel, both of whom had aggressively lobbied Cao for his support. And they got it, enabling them in the weeks ahead to claim reform a "bipartisan effort."

And it was a victory for the Speaker of the House for two reasons. Limbaugh and Politico may have scoffed at the victory Pelosi claimed at the election on Tuesday of pro-reform Democrats in House races in California and New York State, but these two individuals played an important part in passage. Garamendi in California replaced a liberal Democrat, Owens in California a Republican. Replace both with a Republican, the vote is 217-217, with the likelihood Cao would have cast the deciding vote against the legislation.

Additionally, Pelosi (and President Emanuel) won passage only by selling out abortion rights with the introduction, and passage, of the anti-choice amendment of Bart Stupak (D.-MI) earlier in the day. If the amendment (which went beyond the existing restrictions of the Hyde Amendment) had passed and then the bill itself had passed easily, Pelosi would have sacrificed her principles for.... nothing. Clearly, though, the bill would not have passed were it not for approval of Stupak's amendment.

Passage of health care reform came at a big price for the progressive Speaker, but she'll take the "W." It came at little cost for President Obama, who appears to be increasingly unconcerned with the actual content of whatever legislation is ultimately enacted. Saturday wasn't the Super Bowl (or the World Series, or the BCS national championship game) but it was the playoffs, and they weren't eliminated.

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