Megan McArdle notes that
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.
Or, to put it more cynically, Republican attack ads will blast Dems for their initial "yes" vote whether or not they vote "no" the second time around . McCardle, while skeptical, call this the progressive's "best argument."
It's not their best argument. If support of health care reform really is damning, then there's every reason to think scaredycat Dem waverers could buy themselves some measure of protection by confessing error and changing their vote . Happens all the time in politics.
There's a much better argument. It's that passing health care reform offers Dems, in the not-so- long term, a chance to do more than avoid Republican attacks. It offers the chance to disprove them . For months, both GOP and Fox hosts have been talking about socialized medicine and death panels and vicious Medicare cuts and the government coming between you and your doctor, etc. If Democrats pass the bill and none of this happens, Republican opponents will be more than defeated. They'll be discredited. Not permanently, of course-- nobody's permanently discredited anymore. But discredited enough to give Dems some running room for a few election cycles. Retreating on health care, on the other hand, gives credence to the Republican claims . Indeed, for all practical purposes it lets them win the argument.
What do Democrats want to do--punt, or change the whole playing field to one where they have the advantage?
P.S.: If there is a kernel of truth to GOP charges of "rationing" and even "death panels"--the argument being that that's where the Dem plan will lead-- all the more reason to enact the plan and demonstrate that it doesn't necessarily lead there. For example, I don't think Peter Orszag's precious cost-cutting Medicare Advisory Board will ration care--I doubt it will even succeed in cutting costs,* precisely because the public won't stand for being denied potentially useful treatments. There's only one way to prove it.
Of course, some of the ill-effects predicted by health care reform opponents wouldn't show up for many, many years--a slowdown in medical innovation, for example. But if you are a cynical Dem pol, is that a bug, or a feature?
P.P.S.: OK, you say. If Dems pass reform and the sky doesn't fall, that might help them in the semi-near term. But how would it help them this November , when many will be facing what looks like an impressive wave of popular discontent? One answer is to look at the public's response to the "stimulus" bill. It was unreasonable to expect last year's package of spending to have an immediate effect on the unemployment rate. But when the unemployment rate didn't fall, did voters say "Well, let's give it another year and see"? Or did they start to think the stimulus was a flop? Answer: flop. Similarly, if health reform passes and nothing much changes, they will very quickly start to suspect that the GOP predictions of doom were bogus. Other issues will rise into the foreground. This tendency to jump to conclusions can only be enhanced, you'd think, by the increased ability of voters to process new information with greater and greater rapidty .
I'm not saying Dems won't be punished in the fall. I'm saying the protection they get in the fall from passing the bill (and not having the sky fall) is roughly equivalent to the protection they get from bailing and admitting error. And they'll be buying themselfs a huge advantage in the next election, and the one after that, when the sky continues to not fall--and maybe even when some of the benefits of the plan become apparent (though "benefits" are not really required to disprove Republican predictions, only the absence of disaster).
P.P.P.S.--Can't Blame It On the Filibuster Now: Note that the barrier to health care reform does not appear to be the Senate , with its undemocratic filibuster rules. The problem is the ultra-democratic House , where (thanks largely to the bill's lack of popularity ) Dems may just not have the votes .
Update: Alert reader P disagrees, worrying that any hint of rationing, denial of coverage or government red tape, long before reform kicks in
...will be forever BLAMED on healthcare reform the day it passes. Imagine if someone is rejected for coverage or sees some bad outcome in the healthcare system. What's to stop the GOP from parading that person in front of the cameras and claiming, "This person is being screwed by Obamacare!" even though no such thing happened? They could find some tenuous connection between more government regulation and some bad outcome, and they could run with it, and they would blame Obama.
My larger point is this: Once Obama and Democrats pass healthcare reform, they essential own the entire healthcare system and all of it's outcomes. If someone's doctor is too slow, "Damn you Obama!" If a hospital bill is high, "Damn you Obama!"
I'm not sure how much of this sort of thing could happen before November. ... In the long run, of course, Democrats should more or less own the consequences of their legislation. As Washington pays more and more of the bill, you'd expect a continual political tussle between patients demanding treatment and the government trying to protect its treasury. That doesn't bother me--I expect the patients to win, and win more easily than they win against insurance companies. But all the fighting might still be a negative, for Dems, because more of the agitation will be directed at government institutions they created (instead of at private insurers). Medicare manages to keep this sort of thing under control, however (albeit at great expense). And it's not what conservative opponents of the Dem reforms are predicting--which is tyranny, bureaucracy and bankruptcy.
The more credible short term threats, suggested by Ramesh Ponnuru , are premium increases. But would Anthem-like rate hikes before November play into Republicans' hands, or Obama's? ....
**--All the more reason why it was foolish for Obama to make a big deal of it. ... 4:27 P.M.
Obama Aides Grow More Confident! One of my favorite L.A. Times headlines was "Aides Grow More Confident in Davis's Chances," published in 2003 a few days before Gov. Gray Davis was crushed in a recall election (at a time when his aides can't possibly have been growing more confident). On Wednesday the Times ran a front page story headlined
Democrats on track to revive healthcare overhaul
Party lawmakers, energized by President Obama's blueprint and summit plans, are getting behind the strategy of passing the Senate's bill and using budget reconciliation to prevent a GOP filibuster.
I guess that hed writer is still on the job. ... More layoffs, please. ...
P.S.: According to LAT reporters Noam Levey and Janet Hook's eerily resonant lede graf, "Democratic lawmakers are increasingly confident that they can resurrect their sweeping overhaul legislation after weeks of uncertainty ..." [E.A.] According to the WSJ , Rahm Emanuel advised Obama "that it wasn't feasible to pass a comprehensive bill and counseled a lesser version." I fear the Journal' s reporting is closer to the truth. The LAT just stops being a newspaper in situations like this. ... 12:11 P.M.