Premature Schadenfreude

Jonathan Chait is enjoying what you might call "pre-schadenfreude" about health care's apparent revival.  One can understand the urge, given how little opportunity liberals have had to actually revel in GOP despair over the past few weeks.  But I think it's more wishful than warranted.

Despite having declared the death of the health care bill before almost anything else, I don't want to say that the thing's impossible.  But the House has lost three of the votes it used to pass their bill 220-215 . . . which means that you have to persuade someone (probably a Blue Dog) to vote for it, who already voted against it.  Progressives have been making the almost-plausible argument that the public is going to treat a vote for the House or Senate bill as a vote for final passage, so Democrats might as well go ahead and pass the thing.  But their best argument totally falls apart for those who originally voted no. 

And that's the best-case scenario.  It assumes that you can keep Bart Stupak's pro-life caucus, even though it's unlikely that they'll be able to "fix" the Senate's more liberal abortion language in reconciliation.  This is a pretty heroic assumption.  If you lose many of the Stupak folks, then the bill's done; there is not a snowball's chance in hell that you are going to persuade any significant number of the prior "no" votes in the Democratic caucus to throw their careers on the pyre of Democratic health care ambitions.

Meanwhile, it's not clear how many senators are nervous.  Are we sure they have 51 Democrats for reconciliation?  Reid has made these sorts of claims before, only to slip another deadline.

And deadlines are yet another big problem.  Reid says they'll be ready to do reconciliation within 60 days.  Really?  Democrats are going to pass a mongo, costly new entitlement right around Tax Day?  The caucus might as well pass the hat for the GOP election fund.  But if you delay it, you're leaving an unpopular bill very fresh in peoples' minds as they go into the 2010 elections.  You're also eating up air time that senators and congressmen would presumably like to have for initiatives that are actually, y'know, popular.

I'm not seeing it.  And neither are any of the people I know who opposed the bill.  They're worried, but at about the level of worry you give toe fungus, not stage-three metastatic cancer.  Mr. Chait is going to have to wait a little while for his freak-out.  Unless that's one hell of a health summit Obama puts on, he'll probably have to wait forever.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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