Stomach turning indeed…
A disgrace for the Democrats
Micheal Tomasky. The Guardian
Obama’s congressmen will sabotage the health bill to keep their seats. It is stomach-churning
In our House of Representatives – “the people’s body” – the Democrats at this moment enjoy a gaudy 75-seat majority. Wait. Did I just put “Democrats” and “enjoy” in the same sentence? Scratch that. The Democrats suffer the affliction of a 75-seat majority. That’s a joke, except not really. What is going on right now in the lower house vis a vis healthcare reform is a stomach-turning sight to behold – a saga of preening, duplicity, pomposity, self-interest and, most of all, cowardice that is worthy of Holinshed. The players in this drama are participating in the destruction of their own party. They know this. And they persist.
What’s happening right now, of course, is that Nancy Pelosi, the house speaker, and President Barack Obama, are trying to round up the votes in the house to pass the Senate’s health bill. Exactly 216 are needed. Right now they have 194. Or 202. Or 210. Or something. But not 216.
So Pelosi is on the prowl for yes votes. The house passed its version of the bill last November by five votes, 220-215. At the time, 39 Democrats voted against it. This probably sounds strange to British readers, but it’s how the Democratic party does things. Lots of Democrats – 49 of them, in fact – represent districts where John McCain defeated Obama. They live in fear of being tarred by a future Republican opponent of having abetted the march of socialism. So they voted no on the most important piece of social legislation that body has had before it in probably 40 years.
Now, under our somewhat arcane rules of legislation, the house must vote on the matter again. But this time its members will vote on the Senate version of the bill, different in certain ways. More centrist, really. Pelosi is working behind the scenes. The moment she feels certain she has 216 votes, she’ll call a vote, the bill will pass and the corks will pop. And if that moment never arrives, there will likely be no vote. The alleged deadline (there is no statutory deadline, just a sort of media-suggested one) is Easter.
And, this time around, there is considerably more at stake than there was last November. We’re in an election year now (all members of the house must stand). It is, to use an American metaphor, the bottom of the ninth inning. That means the last chance of success. And what are Democrats doing?
Making demands. Hamleting away ostentatiously on cable television. Living in mortal fear that they might lose their seats. But are they thinking about how to fix the bloated mess that is American healthcare, or serve their uninsured and underinsured constituents? Maybe in private, but certainly not in public.
Here’s the situation. Everyone knows that if reform passes, it’s a historic accomplishment for the party and the president. Yes, Republicans will attack it as a government takeover of the health sector. But at least Democrats will be able to say that on the matter on which they spent months and months, they finally won. And – this part is more important – everyone knows that if it fails, it’s a historic setback for the party and the president. This fall’s elections could be a total wipeout for Democrats.
Everyone knows this. And yet, some Democrats will still oppose it. Why? For two reasons. First, some, especially among those aforementioned 49, will face well-financed Grand Old Party opponents and lose. In fairness to them, that’s actually a somewhat logical analysis.
But second, we move from logic to the realm of psychology. Passage of a big health reform bill is a classic Rumsfeldian “unknown unknown”. Congress hasn’t passed a bill like this in, as I said, four decades. What will happen? What spites and furies will be unleashed? It will alter the political landscape for years to come. But how?
Politicians dread these questions. So, far better that there’s no vote at all. That’s a known. They can go back to their districts and say: “Well, we moved too fast, Obama overreached, and now we’ll start again at square one.” That, of course, won’t happen. Reform will die. But that’s what they’ll say. And they’ll return to their collective 13% (you read that right) job approval rating and their nice important jobs in a body that is a national laughing stock and is institutionally incapable of taking actual steps to fix actual problems in American society.
Or they can take a little risk on what will be for most of them the single most substantively consequential vote of their entire careers, even understanding (horror) that some of them might lose in the election. We can’t have that, right? God forbid someone lose a seat in Congress. Life itself will end. I mean, what an unimaginable existence: getting a well-paying job as a lobbyist or corporate rainmaker, being called “congressman” for the rest of your life, drawing a congressional pension – and, by the way, congressional healthcare … Dante himself couldn’t have imagined such a savage circle of hell.
I should note that there exists a small handful of Democrats who should fairly be given a pass on the vote. They have no seniority, no long-term relationships with the constituents, and come from deep-red districts. They number around 15 or so.
But the others? Disgraceful. Virtually all of them have tens of thousands, or sometimes more than 100,000, adult constituents with no private insurance. If they’re not in Washington to do something about that, then what are they there to do? Please don’t answer that question.