Victory — Sort Of
There was a huge shift in the health care battle last week. Early in the week, the White House was sending out the message that they didn’t want Democrats called out for their failure to back a public plan, nor did they want campaigns launched against the insurance industry. This despite the fact that in conservative districts, insurance companies are just as reviled as they are in progressive districts. Insurance companies were the new banks.
By the end of the week, all that changed. Not only were HCAN and OFA advertising against Blue Dog Democrats in their districts, Obama took to the bully pulpit. But like DDay, I didn’t hear the same message that others did about a "line in the sand" — what I heard was "I want this off my plate."
The theory behind the 40 vote strategy is that if you can construct a progressive obstacle to passing health care, then the White House has to beat up Blue Dogs to make it happen. You’re gambling at that point that the political price of losing will be too high. You’re leveraging the people you do have influence over — people who have been coasting in safe seats in progressive districts for years — against those you don’t.
We don’t have much influence over the Blue Dogs. The White House does. If you make failure the price of giving up on a public plan, Rahm works for you.
The idea that Rahm had gone rogue when he was calling for "triggers" is ludicrous. Rahm doesn’t go off the reservation — Rahm is the reservation. It’s his job to whip votes, and his strategy on every bill to date has been to give the Blue Dogs everything they want and then beat the progressives into taking it. There was no indication that health care would be any different, until that 76% number appeared.
That gave us something to work with.
But D-Day thinks the battle is over, that a public plan is fait accompli, and that we should move on to talking about how we’re going to pay for this. He’s right about the payment part, but I’d take issue with the "fait accompli" bit.
Remember the President’s speech after the AIG bonus flap?
In the last six months, AIG has received substantial sums from the US Treasury. I’ve asked Secretary Geithner to use that leverage and pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.
Remember the clawback bill that passed the House? And that was the end of that. The House has been used with some frequency of late for the purpose of populist kabuki that never goes anywhere.
Obama’s numbers on health care are tanking. And much as I’d love to believe it’s because he hasn’t embraced a public plan aggressively enough, it’s probably more due to the relentless hammering he’s getting from the GOP over the cost. It’s a cumulative bill, as the cost of the bank bailouts and the auto company bailouts and the IMF bailout and the big coal bailout and the stimulus start to add up in the public mind. From a political perspective, Obama wants it off his plate.
And that means that the calls from Joe Lieberman, the Republicans and the Blue Dogs to "slow things down" are toxic. He doesn’t want this dragging on, with each day giving Boehner and DeMint more time to hammer him. He wants it done.
Which works out well for progressives — because getting a bill passed in the House and the Senate before the recess means that members of Congress won’t go home and get pounded by millions of dollars’ worth of ads that might change their votes. It also means that Obama needs to shore up the base, which means that a public plan is very much on his agenda.
But if one of them has to go, he’ll sacrifice the public plan for speed. So, I’m not quite where DDay is. I think the battle is still very much on.
Here’s my exchange with Kent Conrad from last Wednesday:
CONRAD: I ask you, why have you concluded that a co-op plan won’t provide meaningful competition?
HAMSHER: My point is, how can you say there aren’t the votes for something that 76% of the country want?
CONRAD: All I can tell you is what I’ve told you.
HAMSHER: I just don’t think it’s right.
CONRAD: I think it is (WALKS AWAY)
HAMSHER: You think it’s right?
CONRAD: I think my assessment of where the votes are is right.
HAMSHER: I don’t argue with you, I just think there’s something wrong about that.
The easiest political path to passing health care is still running the "co-op" crunch. Regardless of what the House does, the Senate can pass Conrad’s shitty fake co-op. The Blue Dogs band together and refuse to vote for anything else, and that’s what comes out of conference. There’s a PR blitz to sell it as a "public plan" (which is why we’ve worked so assiduously to define it as NOT a public plan), and in a rush to get something passed, Rahm starts twisting progressive arms — which have been historically very easily twisted.
Shorter version: keep calling.