As will become clear in tonight's State of the Union, President Obama wants to start focusing on jobs and the economy. Apparently, so do Democratic leaders in Congress. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday said his chamber was in "no rush" to finish health care reform.
Does that mean progress is at a standstill--and that reform is on the verge of death? SEIU President Andy Stern doesn't think so. In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday, Stern suggested that resolving health care reform, at this point, involves waiting for staff to sort out some technical questions. In particular, he said, Congress needs to figure out what can be done through the reconciliation process, what can't, and in what sequence things need to happen.
While that's happening, Stern explained, Congress would be foolish not to focus on other issues:
We need to multi-task here: Americans expect their legislators to do what most families have to do--go to work, take care of the kids, to handle more than one job at a time--as opposed to having everybody’s attention focused on health care.
I think [congressional leaders and staff] are appropriately and thoughtfully trying to look at what bill is good for the American people -- and then what processes are available to get that bill done. It doesn’t require everybody’s full time and attention and it’s actually healthy, I think, that we will be talking about jobs, banking, and regulations -- as opposed to what we saw much of last year.
We’re so used to seeing this thing being the only dominant story--and it’s crowded out everything else--that people are assuming its absence from the spotlight means nothing is happening. And that’s not correct.
Of course, Stern made one other good point. Health care reform actually is a jobs program. A recent paper that David Cutler and Neeraj Sood published through the Center for American Progress suggested reform would generate between 250,000 and 400,000 jobs. Stern suggested that he was thinking of writing a new country music song: "Looking for jobs in all the wrong places."
Yeah, he's a better union organizer than comedian. But he may be right.
Update: Greg Sargent has more on the procedural complications reformer face.