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Posted by on Feb 22, 2010 in Health, Politics | 15 comments

Democratic Shift? Determined to Finish Health Care Reform Bill?

Have the Democrats made a shift after being shell shocked by last summer’s tempestuous anti-health care reform town hall meetings, plummeting support in polls for health care reform, lousy publicity over let’s-make-a-deal horsetrading to get prima dona Democrats on board and — the final body blow — the election of Republican Scott Brown to fill the Senate seat long held by Democrat Ted Kennedy, whose life dream was to have health care reform enacted?

Granted: that’s a long run-on sentence, but it encompasses just some of the factors that have made the Democrats look like a donkey caught in the headlights. But, the Washington Post’s perceptive Ezra Klein writes, that era may be coming to a rapid close:

There’s not a lot of policy news in the president’s new health-care plan. The changes are pretty much what we expected: more money going to subsidies (which are now being referred to as “the largest middle class tax cut for health care in history”), an excise tax that kicks in later and affects fewer plans, a new Health Insurance Rate Authority to oversee premium increases and reject them if they’re unfair, the elimination of the Nebraska deal, and so on. There’s no public option, nor any significant retrenchment. In fact, the cost of the bill has increased by $75 billion, the result of more generous subsidies.

But if the changes to the underlying policies are modest, the impact on the politics will be tremendous. It might even be, as Olympic announcer Ed Olcyzk said about the Canada/U.S. hockey game, “tremendously tremendous.” The release of this plan marks the end of the Scott Brown election and the resumption of the health-care process.

Klein then recounts some of the other bumps and grinds a long the way and ends with this:

The election of Scott Brown threw the politics of the issue back into chaos, and unlike in past instances, left the process uncertain as well. But Democrats have spent the past few weeks rebuilding the process, and today was the first step: The press will now spend a few days covering the plan itself, rather than just the politics of the issue. Then comes Thursday’s summit, and if all goes well there, Harry Reid says that the Senate will use the reconciliation process to make a few tweaks and changes and, alongside the House, finish this bill.

That, of course, is the real plan: finish the bill. The Democrats have been roundly criticized for mishandling the politics of health-care reform, and those criticisms have often been justified. But there’s a larger truth, too: The only way to win this issue is to pass the bill. Their biggest mistake has been letting the legislation take so long. But that doesn’t mean they’ve failed. They fail if the bill fails, and they succeed if the bill passes. The progress has become slow and halting and unsteady, but they are still moving toward the finish line.

Several things on this:

1. Clearly Obama and the Democrats hope the televised health care summit will produce a sound byte moment or draw a comparision between their party and the GOP which, they believe, would end in the public seeing one party with substantive ideas to try to ensure a lot of people and the with few ideas and only willing to put the smallest size band aid on the bleeding health care crisis.

2. The GOP is fully aware of what Obama and the Democrats want. So they will most assuredly be prepared (with some kind of proposal and with some kind of sound byte or plan to manuever into one that can be played over on the news and You Tubes).

3. The question is whether the Democrats are prepared for the Republicans being prepared.

4. And, beyond that, have the Democrats weighed (a)the consequences if they have to essentially go it alone? (b)the consequences if the issue totally dies and little or nothing happens?

The old Boy Scout motto was “Be prepared.”

This week the “victory” will go to whichever side is prepared — which includes being prepared for the other side being prepared.

The Democrats big problem — stemming from back several decades now — is that many Americans have concluded that the Democrats talk a good game but once in power the party splinters or parts of it overreach and the party lacks a backbone. The Republicans have shown that even if they don’t have a huge majority, there is generally party discipline and backbone in enacting an agenda — even if critics will make the case that the larger support from the general electorate is not really there.

Who will be the best prepared in terms of the summit — and for the consequences that can result from action or inaction on health care reform?