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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Hippies Are Tripping

by digby

"...but I gotta say, Contessa, just because so much of the commentary I've heard has been really idiotic. Liberals who want universal health care ought to be thanking Harry Reid for getting this thing done rather than talking about what's inadequate in the bill. I'm not saying the bill's a good bill, but if you're a liberal, and you want universal coverage in this country, and think that you could do better than Harry Reid, can do better than what he's done, or the White House can do better, they ought to lay off the hallucinogenic drugs because we have had a vivid demonstration of the limits of political possibilities on this issue."

Meanwhile, in a world in which two houses of congress still exist:

Democrats Face Challenge in Merging Health Bills

Even as the Senate took a significant step toward passing its version of a sweeping overhaul of the health insurance system before Christmas, Democrats were grappling Monday with deep internal divisions over abortion, the issue that most complicates their drive to merge the Senate and House bills and send final legislation to President Obama.

In the House, advocates and opponents of abortion rights and conservative Democrats have made clear that they object, for different reasons, to the Senate’s compromise language on abortion. Interest groups on both sides of the spectrum — Planned Parenthood on the abortion rights side, Catholic bishops for the anti-abortion rights camp — also oppose the abortion provision in the Senate bill, leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a challenge in rounding up the votes she needs in the House.

Ms. Pelosi’s room for maneuvering is limited because any changes to the language in the Senate bill could unravel the deal that provided Democrats with the 60 votes they need to get the legislation through the Senate.

Maybe the liberal members of congress are on drugs, I don't know. But I do know that the House of Representatives is a constitutional body with an equal say in legislation. And they passed a bill that is substantially different from the Senate. But unlike Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, they are being told that their concerns are irrelevant and that they have to suck it up and pass the bill that Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson say they are allowed to have.

Now, the fact is that they want desperately to pass health care reform and Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson would like nothing more than to walk away, so they are at the same disadvantage they've always been. But that's not a guarantee. Pelosi has Stupak and the unions both threatening, while her liberals, especially women, are getting tired of being used as a bargaining chip in this effort. It's not like she can just wave a magic mushroom and get everyone to hold hands and sing "I Am The Walrus."

It may be true that Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman have veto power over any bill. But until this process completely plays out, there is no way of knowing for sure that somebody else isn't going to exercise theirs. It can happen and it has. So a word to the wise to all the people who are telling liberals to STFU --- STFU. If you like this Senate bill you might want to be a little bit more respectful to all the people who still have its fate in their hands.

There seems to be an unfortunate requirement in American politics that when pundits and numbers crunchers read the tea leaves and determine to their satisfaction that the contest is over, those they've decided are going to lose are required to immediately capitulate, admit they were wrong and join in the celebration of the winner --- even if the votes haven't been cast or the cases haven't been decided. I can think of three recent electoral situations like that --- the 2000 election, the 2004 Democratic primary and the 2008 Democratic primary. There is an unwillingness to let democracy play itself out all the way out to the official finish.

Yes, it may be true that the Senate bill is the final bill and that liberals will have to live with that. But exhorting them to get with the program before the conference committee even reports out a bill doesn't account for the fact that sometimes it really ain't over til it's over. Case in point: Howard Dean 2004. Sometimes things don't turn out the way you think they will.

Of course, sometimes they do. But even if the Senate bill is the best bill we're going to get, it's unwise not to allow people some space to argue for improvement. They will be far less likely to feel they were railroaded --- after all, when somebody's pressuring you to "give in to the inevitable" you can be forgiven for wondering why they're trying so hard to force you to sign on if they're so sure of the outcome. The final bill will have more legitimacy if everyone on the team feels that they tried their best, they were heard and they can come back to fight another day.

I would guess that when the final health care bill is passed, the vast majority of disappointed activists will regroup and figure out what to do going forward to improve it. But the punditocracy (and some in the administration) aren't making that any easier by telling people who care deeply about the issue that they need to "get over it" before it's even over.

Update: To be clear, I'm not saying that people shouldn't criticize tactics or dishonest arguments where they see them. I'm simply saying that telling people that they have to clap louder isn't a good idea. I believe that fighting this stuff out is good for democracy and that there is far too much fear of "discord" especially in Democratic Party politics. It's not the end of the world to have disagreements.