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Posted by on Aug 28, 2009 in Health, Politics | 20 comments

Jonathan Chait On Who, Or What, Is Really to Blame for the Whole Health-Care Debacle

Well, the Republicans are to blame, of course. But, for Democrats, here’s some much-needed perspective from TNR’s Jon Chait:

The Senate is what controls the process. That’s the chokepoint for any health care bill. The question isn’t how badly Obama wants a public plan, or how much he cares about bipartisanship. It’s whether moderate to conservative Democrats in the Senate will filibuster a bill that has a public plan or lacks GOP support. Everything else is details.

In other words, it’s not all Obama’s, or even primarily Obama’s fault. And if Democrats, and especially the more progressive ones, want to lay some blame, they should look no further than the Senate.

I sort of buy this and sort of don’t. Obama certainly could have done more — and should do more — to promote meaningful health-care reform with a robust public option. But he’s also a realist, and there’s only so much he can do, not just given these structural/institutional limitations but given how much political capital he’s already spent on the stimulus package and the bank and auto bailouts.

And the key is not so much to secure the support of obstructionist Republicans opposed to reform, including the three in the Gang of Six, but to keep moderate/centrist Democrats in the fold. Which is easier said than done, of course, what with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, and Ben Nelson now doing their best Republican impressions. (It’s also a bit rich for the generally moderate/centrist Chait to be calling upon liberals in the party to try to oust these more right-leaning Democrats. For more on this, see Greenwald.)

There is still hope for reform, of course. With Republicans looking more and more like the obstructionists they are, and showing more and more that what they really want is not compromise but no reform at all, Democrats are slowly but surely turning away from the possibility of a bipartisan bill, realizing that, if reform is to get done, they’ll have to go it alone. Whether they’ll be able to or not, given the Republican-lite positions of Lieberman et al., remains to be seen, just as it remains to be seen whether Obama will put a stop to the phony “post-partisan” niceties and lead the fight for meaningful reform. Which may be his plan, after all: Make a show of reaching out, genuinely, to Republicans, allow Republicans to expend their energy refusing to negotiate in good faith, move in and promote a Democratic bill while Republicans are relegated to the sidelines, blamed for their obstructionism, and emerge with what he wanted all along.

Once again, I fear I’m being naively optimistic. Regardless, I think Chait is right that it’s hardly all Obama’s fault. He can only do so much, after all, and there is only so much that can be done with members of his own party blocking the way.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)

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