I’m on the road, sans computer, and so have limited email access, but did want to comment briefly on yesterday’s votes which I managed to watch in a hotel lobby. Let me make a few brief points, keeping in mind that this is all based on what I saw on the cable last night, and without reading any news coverage today.
1. Passing a health care bill is a significant accomplishment, one that is hard to overestimate. By “significant” I refer not so much to the substantive implications of the bill (much of which remain uncertain), as to what it says about the American political system. It is a reminder that, contrary to what many say, the legislative system is not “gridlocked” or “broken”. Significant laws continue to be passed, albeit after lengthy and often acrimonious debate. Whether this is a “good” bill is another matter, one I hope to address more fully when I get back online regularly. But the key point to take home is that even if Republicans regain control of both congressional chambers in November, they cannot repeal this legislation as long as a Democrat sits in the White House.
2. This is a stark reminder of the limits of presidential power. Simply put, without the concession to Stupak by the President, this legislation doesn’t pass. Again and again, President Obama has shown the willingness to compromise when necessary to get that last vote, even at the risk of offending liberals in his party. The reason he did so is because he has no choice if he wanted some version of health care to pass. Presidents are weak, and Obama is no exception to this rule.
3. Contrary to what you may read, this vote did not “save” Obama’s presidency. In fact, my guess is it will have almost no impact on his ability to govern or to get other significant legislation through a deeply polarized Congress. There is no evidence that I know of suggesting that votes like these provide “momentum” on other legislation. This is one victory on one piece of legislation – and that’s it.
4. The Congress remains deeply polarized, as the “baby killer” comments indicates. At this point, I expect legislative productivity to pretty much end as members go into full campaign mode.
5. The health care debate is not over. I’ll have much more to say about this when I have time, but key votes remain – votes that could be even more contentious than last night’s.
I’ll try, if I can get a reasonable chunk of time to actually peruse the papers, to get back on line in the next several days and post some extended thoughts. Since several of you emailed me asking for comments, let me remind you that you are free to post here to get the debate going.
More in a bit, I hope…