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The Abyss

"Democratic Health Care Talks Collapsing." That's the headline in Politico. And that's what I am hearing, too. Congress has broken for the weekend, no agreement is in sight, and the situation is deteriorating. Still, not everybody has given up. Among the (relative) optimists is a veteran Democratic strategist, who writes:

It is always darkest before dawn...but this too shall pass. The truth is that there is no political option other than to pass health reform.  It would be political suicide to fail. When the Democrats in the House realize this and, hopefully before they rule it out, they will agree to pass this legislation--with a little help from the Senate.

Now is the time to write stories about how strategically and politically insane it would be for the House to not find a way to pass the legislation.

If they fail to do so, the Republicans will be the writers of history--because the victors, not the vanquished, get the pen and the paper to do so. They will get to define what was in it and why it died. And this will have implications not just about the past but the future. Republican will say, and more effectively (but no less inaccurately) than ever, that, given the chance, the Democrats will be right back at it again with their "evil, secret fantasy to take over the health care system."  They will more successfully (and inaccurately) define "it" as being a deficit busting, government take-over that will ration care and harm seniors.

Democrats have to understand that virtually all of them have already voted for a bill that will therefore be defined by the Republicans.  As such, they--and even those Democrats who did not vote for the bill--will be linked to that party that embraced to "Obamascare." And, for those who are contemplating embracing a fall-back, small-ball approach, think again. That seductively tempting option won't come to pass either. Why?  Because the Republicans will work to ensure it does not. 

Why would they do anything else?  Do they want to see the President have a signing ceremony on health reform this year?  Please... They will employ delaying tactics and add poison pills to any Senate bill to ensure the House never passes the bill.  In any case, such an effort would take months to conclude at precisely the time the Democrats say they want to change the subject.  Failure to pass will be laid at the feet of the Dems and they will look even more foolish than they do now... Can you imagine losing twice on health care before the November?

Clearly there is only one alternative.  Pass the Senate bill and move to fix it this year and beyond.  No matter what, the party and the country will be a winner.  The stakeholders--consumers, labor, businesses, and health care providers committed to quality care and many others--will join them in the winner's circle. And the Administration and the Democrats in the Congress will be able to write the true story about health care and highlight all the benefits.  Indeed, they will be able to deliver on many of them THIS YEAR--whether it be the elimination of pre-existing conditions for children, the elimination of lifetime caps, the extension of dependent coverage for kids, the provision of small business tax credits or the first downpayment on the elimination of the Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole. 

If we can't sell these things this year and before the election, we deserve to lose.  Now, let's step back, take a deep breath and think before we commit suicide.  The alternative is much better.

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