In a defining moment for the politics of Change, the President is facing a fight-or-flight choice against a coalition led by a powerful member of his own party.
“Sometimes I get a little frustrated,” Barack Obama told a town hall yesterday, “because this is one of those situations where it’s so obvious that the system we have isn’t working well for too many people, and that we could be doing better.”
Yet, as the President commands crowds and TV cameras, Max Baucus and a handful of bipartisan assassins are strangling health care reform in a back room filled not with the traditional smoke but, more appropriate to the occasion, junk food.
Obama was sent to Washington last year by almost 2,000 times as many voters as the senator with a Montana residence who has found a home among capital lobbyists, but at this critical moment, Baucus seems to have more power to shape the future of American health care than the President and the heads of three other Congressional committees.
At stake are all the key elements of reform, including a public option and tax changes needed to pay the costs of expanding coverage, but Democrats seem ready to cave in, as Harry Reid puts it with his usual forceful leadership:
“I have a responsibility to get a bill on the Senate floor that will get 60 votes. That’s my number one responsibility, and there are times when I have to set aside my personal preferences for the good of the Senate and I think the country.”
In perhaps the most dramatic first six months of any American presidency, Obama has continually reached out for bipartisanship only to find empty air.