Is Health Care Reform Dead?


It's still early, so any talk of disco and doorknobs may be premature. But given the number of Democratic legislators who've already said they're not too interested, I'd say that chances are that Democrats will to have to call off their health care reform efforts shortly—perhaps even by the end of the day tomorrow.

As they say, predictions are hard, especially about the future. But I don't see any plausible options for reform supporters. And reform supporters aren't floating any serious possibilities either: In a conversation with Chris Matthews, liberal MSNBC political correspondent Lawrence O'Donnell just said something to the effect of "I know all the procedures that are available, and I don't know one that can work." For Democrats, it's fourth down, 99 yards to go, they need three touchdowns, and a home run too, but all they have on the field are ping-pong players.

Not surprisingly, reform's biggest boosters are already pretty miffed. Here's Ezra Klein:

For now, it's worth observing that a Democratic Party that would abandon their central initiative this quickly isn't a Democratic Party that deserves to hold power. If they don't believe in the importance of their policies, why should anyone who's skeptical change their mind? If they're not interested in actually passing their agenda, why should voters who agree with Democrats on the issues work to elect them?

But it's not clear that all the Democrats actually wanted to pass this bill to begin with. Just because Obama and the other presidential candidates proposed health care reform on the campaign trail doesn't mean that everyone in the party was on board: A president's campaign proposals aren't universal party sentiments. Take Sen. Joe Lieberman, for example. Though he caucused with Democrats, it's far from certain that passing reform was ever something he really cared to do—in the end, he only supported it after a power play (and now he's joined the chorus of wary Democrats). Or take someone like Sen. Ben Nelson, a popular politician with a safe seat who sold his vote for special home-state Medicaid funding, only to face a significant backlash upon his return home. And then there's Blanche Lincoln, who, facing a tough reelection and a state full of voters who opposed reform, had minimal to no incentive to vote for the bill aside from party pressure, and likely would have been just as happy if the bill never came up for a vote. And then there are the Blue Dogs, who hail from conservative districts none-too-taken with big-government reform. These are only the most obvious examples. But it's clear that some number of Democrats were never too keen on passing the bill.

Meanwhile, Democrats only ever managed to bring about 1/3 of the public along with their specific plan—but succeeded in convincing a huge number of those who started out undecided that it was a bad idea. To successfully pass significant legislation in American politics, you need buy-in from either a party or the public—preferably both. But in the case of health care, it's not clear that Democrats ever had either.