Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blame With Credit

Ask yourself this: which Congress was it which failed to pass health care reform in the 1990s? Don't remember, do you? Because we remember it as the failure of President Bill Clinton (and of the First Lady).

If a health reform bill passes Congress, it will accrue to the benefit of the President of the United States. President Obama will be sufficiently gracious to praise Congress but the American people and the mainstream media will credit the President with the "W" (not Bush). It will be considered a historic achievement beyond the reach of every Democratic President (and Richard M. Nixon) since Harry S. Truman.

So it's a little disconcerting to read in a post by Jed Lewison at Daily Kos

It is also important to point out that if it were not for corporate special interests and a dysfunctional Senate, this bill could have done even more.

President Obama is positioned to be applauded for passage of a health care bill. But for some progressives/liberals, any blame gets apportioned elsewhere. Despite the progressive, continual growth of power of the Executive Branch at the expense of the legislative branch of the federal government since the administration of President Johnson, the popular target has been Congress. It is always safe to blame the House of Representatives or the Senate, or both, because they are invariably less popular than the President of the United States.

But if credit for this legislation will go to the President, so too must any blame for its inadequacies. In a statement from the press office of Senator Russ Feingold issued on December 20, the Wisconsin Democrat argued

Unfortunately, the lack of support from the administration made keeping the public option in the bill an uphill struggle. Removing the public option from the Senate bill is the wrong move, and eliminates $25 billion in savings. I will be urging members of the House and Senate who draft the final bill to make sure this essential provision is included.

The following day, David Dayen of Firedoglake remarked

Today on MSNBC, Howard Dean was asked if he agreed with Feingold’s statement that the Obama Administration bore responsibility for the public option’s removal. He was unequivocal. “Yes” was his one-word answer.

Rahm Emanuel acting, presumably, on behalf of President Obama, has stage-managed the health care legislative process. In an excellent piece on The Huffington Post exploring the failure of liberal/progressive Democratic members of Congress to exert any leverage on health care reform, Jeffrey Feldman notes

As frustrated as the base of the Democratic Party may be in this late stage of the health care reform battle, few have reflected on the force behind every legislative battle this year: Rahm Emanuel.

If a bill finally is passed, Barack Obama will get the credit for doing what's never been done. At the very least, he should get most of whatever blame is assessed for the its failure as policy and politics, and for promise unfulfilled.

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