President Obama today committed himself in no uncertain terms to using reconciliation to enact health-insurance reform.
“At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem,” he said. “The American people want to know if it’s still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future. They are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead. And as long as I hold this office, I intend to provide that leadership. I don’t know how this plays politically, but I know it’s right. And so I ask Congress to finish its work, and I look forward to signing this reform into law.”
But as Obama also noted, there’s “a fascination, bordering on obsession, in the media and in this town about what passing health insurance reform would mean for the next election and the one after that.”
Republicans are certain that passage of Obama’s favored legislation would lead to Democratic losses come November, and maybe it will. Some losses are almost certain anyway, given the history of midterm elections. (Historically, the president’s party loses almost 30 House seats and four Senate seats in the midterms.) Democrats are less certain about its impact, but given the fact that they’re going to get attacked on health care regardless, they might as well pass it.
But given how long this fight has played out and the various twists and turns the story has taken — first it’s gonna pass, then it won’t, then it will, then it won’t — I’m wondering whether final enactment of the bill might not have a bigger psychological impact both inside and outside the Beltway than most people expect.
Again, set aside the debate on the merits of the bill. I suspect a lot of the dissatisfaction at Washington in general and Obama in particular isn’t about the bill itself — most people have no real idea what it will do — but at the stalemate. If Obama is seen as fighting hard for and winning passage of such a major piece of legislation against such determined opposition, it could elevate him considerably in the eyes of frustrated voters.
The fact that many people gave the measure up for dead not so long ago would only compound the impact. So would GOP complaints that a strong-armed president is ramming the bill down their throats. That message might resonate with the GOP base, but for the rest of America — well, people do like to side with a winner.
Long ago, the Republicans made it clear that they would try to turn health care into Obama’s Waterloo, as Sen. Jim DeMint put it. By turning this into the biggest, hardest fought political battle in a generation, and then losing it, they may instead magnify the impact of an Obama victory.
Of course, that’s all conjecture, and even the conjecture goes out the window if the Democrats fail, which remains a very real possibility. If that happens, you can take everything I said above and reverse it.
Either way, Obama’s gone all in.
It’s time to see the river card.