President Barack Obama is now running the political gauntlet on health care reform. The time to jumpstart the proposed legislation is past. Now it’s crunch time: Obama’s must get it passed to avoid him and his party from being politically crunched and the Republicans are hoping Democrats will crunch him for them as they make their own strongest effort to hear the snap.
And, indeed, Obama faces some potential roadblocks in the House — among Democrats. What are the obstacles there?
Lots of House Democrats may be visiting the Oval Office in the days ahead. Obama knows he must counteract at least three different political trends among his party’s back benchers.
1. The liberals
Many liberal members remain angry that they are being asked to pass a bill based on the more conservative Senate version of healthcare reform. They remain adamant that the best way forward would include a government-run public option insurance program, which the Senate pitched aside.
2. The centrists
Many centrist and conservative Democrats remain worried about cost. It is true that the Congressional Budget Office has judged that the Senate bill, in the medium term, would actually reduce the deficit. But these members are concerned that in the real world many government programs end up costing more than originally estimated – much more.
3. The antiabortion bloc
A key group of House Democrats opposes the Senate version of healthcare reform because they believe it contains more permissive language as regards government funding of abortion. Obama could lose as many as a dozen votes due to this obstacle.
Of these hurdles, it is the last that concerns the administration the most. Rep. Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan, a leader of House Democrats who oppose abortion, noted that they are willing to vote down the top domestic priority of a president of their own party over the issue.
“I want to see healthcare, but we’re not going to bypass some principles and beliefs we feel strongly about,” said Mr. Stupak in an ABC broadcast interview Thursday.
And what’s at stake?
If Obama loses this one, look for the new and old media to have as its narrative the Jimmy Carterization of Barack Obama. Obama may as well sign up to start buidling houses for Habitat for Humanity if health care reform goes down in flames — and many Democrats in Congress might then want to put out feelers for jobs in law firms, universities or lobbying groups ASAP. US News & World Report:
Some critics say President Obama is too liberal. Others say he is too centrist. Still others consider him out of touch with the middle class. Whatever the reason, the polls suggest that his party will lose big in this November’s midterm elections, which are becoming a referendum on Obama’s presidency and Democratic rule on Capitol Hill.
But the real problem for Obama is not his ideology or his alleged isolation. It’s that too many Americans don’t think he has governed effectively on the issues that matter most, even though his party controls the House, the Senate, and the executive branch. What he needs is a significant victory to show that he can overcome the status quo and deliver on his promise of change.
Demonstrating some degree of mastery over Washington would not only give the Obama administration some momentum and a morale boost but also would allay fears that the capital has sunk into perpetual stalemate. Eighty-six percent of Americans now say the government is broken, an increase of 8 points since 2006, according to the latest CNN/Opinion Research poll. Barely 50 percent approve of Obama’s job performance, and nearly 60 percent of Americans say the country is on the wrong track, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of polls.
This is why healthcare legislation is so important to Obama’s political fate. It has been languishing for weeks, with the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate unable to find a compromise and Republicans united in opposition. Obama tried to break the logjam with a much-ballyhooed healthcare summit on last week. But after it was over, finding a way forward seemed as elusive as ever.
Senior White House strategists acknowledge that the administration has serious political problems, but they chalk them up mostly to faulty public relations.
Right: And the Easter Bunny will hide eggs in your house next month, too…
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.