Can Democrats Un-Stall Health Care Reform?

That depends on whether they have the will

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Remember health care reform? The nearly year-long slog to overhaul the nation's dysfunctional health care system came tantalizingly close to passage but stalled after Republican Scott Brown displaced a Democratic Senate vote. Now President Obama is planning a bipartisan health care summit on February 25 to kickstart the process. Will this, or any other Democratic gambit, actually work? Or have they lost the momentum?

  • Fix Public Opinion Roadblock  Liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias focuses on popular opposition to the individual mandate, which he says is crucial to making reform work. President Obama earlier opposed the mandate, apparently because it was "politically poisonous," but then decided to go ahead anyway. But Obama never tried to fix the popular distaste for mandates. "Now that congressional Democrats once again seem to be flinching, this same roadblock in public opinion that Obama identified in the first place is still there."
  • Voters Will Never Accept Costs  And that dooms reform, says Reason's Peter Suderman. "[T]he public favors all sorts of health care benefits but isn't interested in any of the usual ways—higher taxes, changes to Medicare—to pay for them," he writes. "I'd love a brand new 70-inch flat panel television and a lifetime supply of Doritos, but I'm not getting either." The solution is to recognize that you can't have the flat-screen, you can't have health care reform.
  • Dems Must Man Up On Reconciliation  That's the Congressional procedure by which passing a bill requires 51, rather than a filibuster-proof 60, Senate votes. The Washington Post's Ezra Klein insists it's the only way, but "Republicans are attempting to brand it an abuse of power [...] Democrats haven't even begun the work of defining it as a simple up-or-down vote." Democrats must frame reconciliation as a legitimate tool, not an abuse.
  • Or Is It a Suicide Nuclear Option?  Conservative blogger Allahpundit thinks Democrats might even use reconciliation to push through a more liberal version of reform that includes the public option. "Increasingly November looks like a doomsday scenario for Democrats — and if the asteroid’s about to hit, why not throw caution to the wind and pass the plan you really want?" He believes this will severely worsen electoral prospects for Democrats.
  • Senate Dems Giving Up  The New York Review of Books's Elizabeth Drew blames Democrats in the Senate for losing the political will to proceed, saying the hold-up is "as much psychodrama as legislative stalemate." She traces this to the reaction to Scott Brown: "The opportunity might have been lost as a result of a misreading of a fluke in Massachusetts. To successfully remedy this misreading would require a certain amount of will, but, at least in the Senate, whatever will had been present appears to be fading."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.