The New York Times is reporting that Democrats plan to take up several other legislative priorities and then return to health care reform at some later date.

With Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul stalled on Capitol Hill, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview that Democrats would try to act first on job creation, reducing the deficit and imposing tighter regulation on banks before returning to the health measure, the president’s top priority from last year.

This sounds like the first step to quietly dropping comprehensive reform all together. It is also possible that Democrats, having no other choice but to move on to other topics, will work out the details of health care. Indications are that the reconciliation sidecar strategy is still the favored path moving forward, and it would inherently take time to negotiate the reconciliation measure and determine what is possible. The last thing Democrats should want is for everything to stand still while the Washington press corp focuses primarily on more secretive health care negotiations.

Personally, I think the delay is a sign of real trouble. The fact that I have not yet seen a strong public commitment from the vast majority of senators and House members is interesting. I also have not seen outlined a popular, easily sold set of “fixes” that would go in a reconciliation measure. The only outline I know of is for a politically toxic combo. And, if they deal with all that, there is still the politically sticky issue of the Stupak amendment.

It is possible two months of cooling off will make the Senate bill more popular with members of Congress and the public, but I would not bet on it.

My recommendation is that Democrats should also be working on a very simple, clean reconciliation-only bill of just easily explained Medicaid/SCHIP/COBRA expansion, along with the reconciliation sidecar measure. I can easily see how the sidecar strategy could fail, and there should be a quick, simple backup plan. Maybe if Democrats had been smart enough to have created a reconciliation-based plan B months ago, they would not be in such serious trouble now.

Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at http://pendinghorizon.com

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