Two more smart political writers suggest that the prospects for reform, although hardly a lock, look a bit brighter than some of the recent coverage might suggest. The first is the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:
As confusing as the political debate seems to be today, it actually revolves around just three inflection points: two are the historical tendency of Democrats to mess things up for themselves, and the just as habitual proclivity of the Republican Party to overplay their hands and give the Democrats something to unite against. Nothing concentrates the (independent) mind like liberal interest group infighting, as David Brooks touts this morning... nothing except Republicans forcefully becoming the "party of no" and openly, vocally, and aggressively working to kill reform for (what seems to be) political purposes. Remember: the Democrats are still much more trusted as a party to fix health care (in the generic sense) that Republicans are. The public buys in to the urgency of the problem, even as they're not officially sold on any solution. What's now known in liberal circles as the "DeMint/Kristol" strategy is an instinctual Republican strategy derived from the gut; it misreads the public's ambivalence about Obama and the health care debate as a sign that the public has soured on health care reform in general (nope) or Democratic principles in particular (not really). It may well have the perverse effect of generating sympathy among independents for Obama. Independents want to get health care done; they respect Obama for trying, even as they've begun to sour on his leadership skills.
The second is Nate Silver, over at Five-Thirty-Eight. "Rumors of the Demise of ObamaCare Have Been Greatly Exaggerated," he writes. Among the reasons:
Once a particular bill is put up to a vote, however, the overwhelming majority of Democrats are going to have a difficult time voting against it. Health care reform remains quite popular in theory and at least marginally popular in practice. It will probably do the most good for those districts where conservative Democrats tend to reside.
And then there is the oldest motivator of all: survival. The failure of health care reform in 1994 may have damaged Bill Clinton -- but it really damaged the Congressional Democrats, who lost 54 seats in the House and another 8 in the Senate. Of the 36 incumbent Democrats who lost that year, only four (North Carolina's David Price, Ohio's Ted Strickland and Washington's Maria Cantwell and Jay Inslee) would ever return to the Congress (whereas Clinton, of course, was re-elected). Any Democrat who votes against health care, moreover, can expect to be permanently shut off from the Obama-run DNC and from most or all grassroots fundraising drives, and many of them can probably expect a primary challenger.
There are probably some Democrats who would be better off if health care went away. But once it comes up to vote, I'd imagine there will be very few who are actually better off voting against it.
Both writers also discuss the option of reconciliation. And Marc suggests that Obama really, really wants to avoid using reconciliation, since parliamentary rules would prevent Democrats from enacting much of their package that way. I think that's right. But I also think Obama will wield reconciliation as a threat, so that both industry interest groups and centrist senators have motivation to make a deal. And I think he'll do so right up until the last minute. In fact, I've often joked that health care will pass Congress on October 14, at 11:59 pm, because--under the terms of the 2009 budget agreement--on October 15 Congress can move to consider health legislation via reconciliation.
Update: Clarified Obama's thinking on reconciliation. He's very wary of using it.