Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com. In the article below he looks at health-care reform. See Lim’s previous OUPblogs here.
After attempting a pivot to jobs, the Obama administration has realized that a hanging cadence on health-care will not do. Perhaps they should never have started it, but closure is what the administration now must have. An encore after the strident audacity of hope on health-care reform was temporarily dashed after the election of Scott Brown to the Senate.
In the immediate aftermath of that election, Democrats were in danger of exchanging over-confidence for excessive humility. After Obama’s historic election the year before and Arlen Specter’s party switch, Democrats were overtaken by hubris that Obama’s tune of change could be used to overturn Washington and to compel it toward a Progressive utopia. But just as Democrats were foolhardy to think that 60 votes in the Senate gave them invincible power, they somehow thought after the Massachusetts Senate election that 59 made them completely impotent.
In the media, we hear, conversely, about the conservative comeback in hyperbolic terms. On Saturday, Glenn Beck, not Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney, delivered the keynote speech in the largest annual conservative gathering, the CPAC conference. If Beck’s stardom exceeds that of the winner of the CPAC straw poll this year, Ron Paul, it is because the conservative movement, charged as it is, remains a movement in search of a leader. It is also a movement, as Beck’s criticism of Progressive Republicans in his speech reveals, which is not exactly in sync with the Republican party – the only machine capable of taking down liberal dreams.
And so a Democratic comeback on health-care reform is afoot. With one vote shy of a fillibuster-proof majority, Senator Harry Reid has opened the door to the Budget Reconciliaton process that more Progressive advocates of health-care reform like Governor Howard Dean have been pushing for a while. While it is not clear that there are 50 votes in the Senate for the public option, assuming that Vice-President Biden will cast the 51st, what is clear is that Democrats are much more likely to push through a liberal bill with the veto pivot sliding to the left by ten Senators.
In the White House too, we see a coordinated move to bring Reconciliation back as an option. Obama used his weekly address on Saturday to lay the ground work when he warned that “in time, we’ll see these skyrocketing health care costs become the single largest driver of our federal deficits.” He said this because in order to use Reconciliation, Democrats must show a relationship between health-care reform and balancing the federal budget.
No one in Washington believes that Thursday’s Health-care Summit will magically generate a consensus when in the past year there has been nothing but partisan bickering. If so, the President is not being naive, but signaling in his Sunday weekly address that he has made a final, good-faith effort to extend an olive branch and that henceforth, he would be forced to go nuclear. “After debating this issue exhaustively for a year, let’s move forward together. Next week is our chance to finally reform our health insurance system so it works for families and small businesses,” the President said. He might just as well have said that next week is our final chance to move forward on a bipartisan basis.
Health-care reform has certainly become Obama’s Iraq. The question now is whether the surge which will begin in earnest next week will work.