Monday, December 21, 2009

Enthusiasm Unwarranted

Digby writes (1/19/09, "Clarifying Debate"):

But the first thing Democrats need to do is dial down the end-zone dance and start talking about this bill for what it is. Indeed, if I were them, I'd work hard to lower expectations. nor do I think that the political system will allow the quick fixes that will be necessary to keep people on board while they get the reforms in place, regardless of whether the Republicans come back into power during the implementation period, which they very well could. This just isn't a big New Deal style social insurance program and selling it in those terms is setting the stage for a backlash.

As the proprietor of Hullabaloo understands better than most of us, this (Senate health care) bill is not a done deal. A vote on final passage in the upper chamber is now scheduled for Christmas Eve and, if (as expected) approved, the House and Senate bills will go to conference and the merged bill eventually to a vote.

Until passage of "health care reform" by Congress, expectations will be ramped up so as to increase chances of approval. But Barack Obama is not stupid- or even halfway there. Once he signs the a piece of legislation (assuming that occurs), there will be a deliberate effort by the White House, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, to lower expectations. That will be realistic, of course, given that anything now gaining the signature of the President will (as Digby apparently understands) bear as much resemblance to the New Deal as the Cleveland Browns' victory yesterday; that is, nothing. But it will be the only wise political strategy. There will be a backlash- but not because champagne corks will be popping.

Nevertheless, if the legislation will not revolutionize health care, perhaps it represents the beginning of a 'slippery slope.' This seems to be a common theme of the liberals/progressives who are disappointed at the emerging outcome, but nevertheless believe it is a step forward.

Take Jacob Hacker, heralded as the author of the "public option," who writes

The current bills in Congress do too little to help Americans immediately; their main actions are delayed for years. If and when legislation passes, progressives should demand immediate concrete actions to make the promise of a reform a reality more quickly and more effectively.

Paul Starr of The American Prospect believes

Liberals in Congress should also recognize that with either a 2013 or 2014 date for implementation, there will be time enough to revise the program before it goes into effect (indeed, time enough for the opponents to roll it back). Many of the specifics, such as the level of subsidies, almost certainly will be changed in the intervening years. And many of those specifics can be changed through budget reconciliation, which requires only 51 votes to pass the Senate.

This evening, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), appearing after the Iowa Democrat on The Ed Show on MSNBC, contended (transcript and video not yet available)

As Tom Harkin said, the day after this vote passes, we can come back and improve it.

The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn argues more concisely:

Pass this bill now. Improve it later. That's the way we do things in America, for better or for worse.

Cohn also has echoed Harkin's comparison of the bill to "a starter home" with a solid foundation, a strong roof, and room for expansion. He concludes "No, this legislation is not everything it could be. But Harkin is right: It’s also not everything it will be."

No, no, no, and no. As Digby explains, "I do not believe this legislation will be exempt from repeal or serious whittling away as time goes on." While the public's attention has been focused on health care for months, there generally has been a narrow majority of the American people supportive of a public option and greater annoyance with the influence of money in politics. If a bill is passed, the special interests then will go to work, unrestrained by the prominence of the debate and media glare which now act as a (limited) brake on their power. No one will be around to promote the interests of the public and corporate interests will dominate the scene to an even greater extent than they have thus far.

It's questionable whether these leading liberal lights really believe that passage of something approaching health care reform will be a stepping stone to actual impovement in the health care system. If they do so, they might actually think Browns' late-season surge of those Cleveland Browns portends an improvement that will drive them to the Super Bowl next season.

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