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Hacker: Pass the Bill

Add one more voice to the chorus calling upon Democrats to pass health care reform, even if it means having the House quickly pass the Senate bill and then amending it later.

It's the voice of Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker, champion of the public plan and frequent contributor to The Treatment. Writing alongside Georgetown Professor (and TNR alum) Daniel Hopkins in the Washington Post, he argues

Forget the question of whether a Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts spells the end of health reform. It doesn't--unless Democrats let it. The Senate has already passed a bill that is far from perfect but far better than nothing. If Democrats lose a Senate seat, the House should simply enact it in return for strong commitments from President Obama and Democratic leaders that they will fight to improve the bill in the future, including through the filibuster-proof budget process.

The real question is what message politicians and pundits will take out of the Massachusetts surprise. (As of this writing, we do not know whether that surprise will be a near-loss for Democrats or a GOP triumph.) Many argue it means Democrats should run from reform. But that would not just be disastrous for American health care. It would misread the results and ignore the lessons of history. Not passing health reform would guarantee that dire predictions about the Democrats' fate will come true.

The bills in Congress hardly enjoy runaway popularity. But the problem isn't that health-care reform itself is unpopular. It is that people are turned off by the current debate about it. And those repelled by what is happening in Washington include a lot of liberals as well as conservatives. In a recent nationwide CNN poll, for example, 10 percent of respondents opposed reform from the left because they felt it was not liberal enough. Another 40 percent supported reform outright, bringing the total supporting the current bills or something more liberal to 50 percent -- compared with 45 percent who oppose the bills because they think they are too liberal.

Those disenchanted liberals are not going to vote for Republicans. They might stay home if Democrats do not remind them that they want to do more on health care down the road. But they are much more likely to stay home if a bill doesn't pass. And by 2010, most of them will probably come around to support the legislation -- as will, we expect, a sizable chunk of those who are now opposed.

Getting the House to vote for the Senate bill will require convincing liberals to put aside their (very legitimate) qualms about the measure. Hacker's liberal bona fides are as good as anybody's, so that should help make the case.

Of course, getting House approval for the Senate bill will also require assent from Democratic centrists. More on them soon...