Democrats have a veto proof majority in the U.S. Senate but the health care public option still went down to defeat yesterday in the Finance Committee. The demise was due to the opposition of Democrats Max Baucus (MT), Kent Conrad (ND), Blanche Lambert (AR), Tom Carper (DE) and Ben Nelson (NE). Liberal organizations ran powerful TV ads in Montana against Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, but it was not enough. A major reason for the defeat is the shift in public opinion. Lambert emphasized health care in her two previous Senate campaigns. She is up for reelection in 2010 and does not face a well known GOP foe. Nevertheless, she is losing to all four Republicans. Lambert will not vote for cloture on any bill that has a public option. Conrad and Baucus obviously do not want it, and Nelson is telling Senate Democrats not to pass health through the reconciliation process. The public option can survive in the House, but I am skeptical it will be added back in a House/Senate Conference. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is telling the Senate Democrats that a bill requiring mandates with no public option will result in a 2010 election setback for her party.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich responded: “An amazing number of Democrats voted no, and I think it puts them in a position where there’s a clear signal to the House Democrats that unless you’re suicidal, you’re going to drop this because why would a marginal House Democratic member vote for a government option in the House knowing that it is absolutely dead in the Senate?”
Democrats definitely do not have the 60 votes necessary to pass the health care public option, and they may now resort to the reconciliation process which requires only 51 votes. Conservative activist Gary Bauer is urging a GOP shutdown of the Senate in response. He may be correct but my fear is what happened when Republicans shut down the government for 25 days in 1995 when a compromise could not be reached on the budget.
A shut down of the Senate is not analogous to a shut down of the government, but the 1995 effort resulted in a significant setback to the Republican Party. Bill Clinton appeared to be the winner in the budget battle, and it gave him significant advantages going into his re-election campaign. We should of course make a major effort to stop the public option, but if we fail after a reasonable time, it might be just as well to take this issue to the voters in 2010.
The government shutdown of ’95 wound up closing down federal agencies which provided essential services and inconvenienced many people. This turned the tide against Republicans. Even if Democrats are successful with the reconciliation route, they would pay dearly for it in 2010. Republican could wait for the 2010 election because the public option is not scheduled to in effect until 2013.
On the other hand, Republicans could well have a mandate for a shutdown and they may not lose favor with constituents. Reconciliation would clearly be an undemocratic way of getting this done, when the majority of the public is opposed. During the 1994 shut down, Republicans were exposed because Speaker Gingrich added a personal bent to the proceedings which made it look extremely petty. Clinton got a major break when Speaker Gingrich made a widely-reported complaint about being snubbed by the White House. Former GOP Majority Leader Tom DeLay called it “the mistake of his Gingrich’s life”. Delay writes in his book, No Retreat, No Surrender:
“He told a room full of reporters that he forced the shutdown because Clinton had rudely made him and Bob Dole sit at the back of Air Force One…Newt had been careless to say such a thing, and now the whole moral tone of the shutdown had been lost. What had been a noble battle for fiscal sanity began to look like the tirade of a spoiled child. The revolution, I can tell you, was never the same.”
Gingrich’s complaint resulted in the perception that he was acting in a petty, egotistical manner. Later polling demonstrated that the event badly damaged Gingrich politically.
New York Times: Health Debate Fails to Ignite Obama’s Grass Roots by Jeff Zeleny
Iowa is where the Obama phenomenon began but now “only the most diehard of supporters attend events.” If the New York Times is saying this you know the President’s agenda is in serious trouble. At the time of the Iowa presidential precinct caucuses the major issue was Iraq. The left was outraged when Bush announced a 21,000 troop surge for Iraq in 2007. Obama implemented a 21,000 troop surge for Afghanistan and they yawned.
Byron York noted this in his most recent column in National Review: “I attended the first YearlyKos/NetrootsNation convention, in 2006, and have kept up with later ones, and it’s safe to say that while people who attended those gatherings couldn’t stand George W. Bush in general, their feelings were particularly intense when it came to opposing the war in Iraq.
“It animated their activism; they hated the war, and they hated Bush for starting it. They weren’t that fond of the fighting in Afghanistan, either. Now, with Obama in the White House, all that has changed. . . . Not too long ago, with a different president in the White House, the left was obsessed with America’s wars. Now, they’re not even watching.”
The “fierce moral urgency” drained out of the antiwar movement as soon as a Democrat was elected President. Over 13 million people belong to his Organizing for America group and their passionate opposition to the Iraq War rocked the nation a year ago. They have paid organizers in 44 states and they have sponsored TV ads promoting the President’s agenda on health care and climate change. The liberal San Francisco Chronicle is covering major anti-Obama rallies by noting the events are the largest conservative demonstrations the city has seen in many years.
The President is an articulate spokesman for his cause. He has been working diligently but so far he is not having a major impact. He has recruited a few Blue Dogs on the public option such as Mike Ross (D-AR), but September should be a grim month for those supporting the Obama agenda.
The article notes, “Obama engendered such passion last year that his allies believed they were on the verge of creating a movement that could be mobilized again. But if a week’s worth of events are any measure here in Iowa, it may not be so easy to reignite the machine that overwhelmed Republicans a year ago. . . . ‘People came out of the woodwork for Obama during the campaign, but now they are hibernating,’ Ms. Smith said.”
Dr. Phil Cantrell of Longwood University in Virginia recently wrote to me and said: “You are exactly right about the anti-Iraq War passion. As a professor on several different college and university campuses during those years, I saw my (almost entirely) liberal colleagues incite their students into opposition to the war in an overt way I had not seen before with politics in the classroom. I was “advised” by a much older colleague at Ohio University that I should excuse my students absences when they attended anti-war rallys, especially since, as I was told, ‘This generation was not always treated so kindly by conservative, 1950s era professors when they were protesting Vietnam.’
“I believe that this type of things lies at the heart of the enormous student vote that turned out for Obama as liberal baby-boomer professors saw themselves relieving the Vietnam War. Also, the Today Show ,if you remember, posted daily “body-counts” just as was done during Vietnam to drum up opposition. I believe the student vote will thus be much harder to rally in 2012.”
Moderate Democrats understand public opinion polls and that is a major reason why the Obama agenda is sinking on Capitol Hill. Democratic Senators Kent Conrad (ND), Max Baucus (MT) and Ben Nelson (NE) are now expected to oppose the public option on health care reform. The Senate’s number two Democrat, Dick Durbin (IL), says he can accept a bill without a public option. The President’s lobbying has been focused on the public option and this will be a major setback for the Administration.
These Democrats have been citing a study by the Lewin Group indicating that a public option could entice 119 million people to drop their private coverage, and it would be a death blow to the insurance industry. The largest existing public health programs — Medicare and Medicaid — are the main reason that the government’s long-term finances are in shambles. Sen. Conrad doesn’t believe a public option will reduce costs. He has noted “We don’t need government-run grocery stores or government-run gas stations to ensure that Americans can buy food and fuel at reasonable prices.” Conrad said he would not vote for any health care reform that funded abortions, care for illegal immigrants or a plan that mandates end-of-life counseling.
A public option bill can not pass the Senate but 64 House Democrats are now on record saying they “simply cannot vote” for a bill that “at minimum” does not have a public option plan. They will not vote for a “co-ops” compromise. Rep. Weiner says the real opposition number is 100. There are 257 House Democrats and if you take away 64 the remaining 193 are well below the 218 needed for passage.
Liberal activist groups are working full blast on a grass roots campaign to convince progressive lawmakers to take a pledge in solid support of the public option. They do not want the President to compromise. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) just explained why the Pelosi plan scares many people: “I think if we had a good public option it would lead to single payer system.” In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says: “We’re going to have some type of public option, call it ‘co-op,’ call it what you want.” From the start, the Administration has always held that “the goal is non-negotiable; the path is,” as Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel put it.