House Democrats have scheduled a rare Saturday vote in an attempt to rush through Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s health care reform bill before any more moderates have a chance to get queasier in the wake of eye-opening GOP wins in Virginia and New Jersey. The bill is still getting text added into it, and the Speaker’s office seems to be on the verge of breaking a pledge of putting the final text of the bill up for 72 hours before a floor vote.
For a document that now runs north of 2,000 pages, even 72 hours seems like an inordinately short amount of time to digest what’s in the bill. Even supporters of the Democrats’ plan should take pause at the unprecedented lack of transparency and legislative stewardship on display here. Anyone who says that Congress doesn’t need time to pore over the bill because it’s too complicated is absolving Congress of a lot of intellectual responsibility. And anyone who claims that all of the bill’s components have been looked at individually is missing the big picture. Without enough time to examine the legalese, who knows what may have crept in? Besides, the bill’s benefits won’t even begin to be paid out for at least another eighteen months, so what’s the urgent need for speed?
The answer has nothing to do with health care and everything to do with political strategy. Pelosi knows that the longer the bill sits out in the open, the longer critics will have to pick it apart. Furthermore, the longer she waits, the greater the chance that moderates will balk at the cost and the scope of the bill. Principled leadership would work to achieve a middle ground with moderate Democrats and Republicans (who, by the way, have received a fairly favorable CBO report for their own health care reform package that costs only $61 billion over 10 years). Instead, Pelosi has gone full-bore with tactics of partisanship and ideological rigidity by rushing to force through a bill that will please the left wing of her party but is growing increasingly unpalatable with the American public.
What’s tactically stupid is that it may all be for nothing anyway. The bill still lacks enough votes to pass through moderate Democratic opposition over budgetary concerns and federal funding for abortions. Throw into the mix an injection of nervousness by the GOP wins in Virginia and deep blue New Jersey, wins that despite the spin concern many Democrats on Capitol Hill, particularly in the utter defection of independents away from the Democratic candidates, one of whom had substantial support from President Obama.
And after all the heartburn in the House, it’s an even tougher sell in the Senate where Sen. Reid’s bill has a very real chance of being substantially modified or not even brought to a vote, period. Pelosi is essentially telling her own moderate members to walk the plank and risk electoral defeat in an effort that may be stymied by the upper chamber of Congress anyway. She may be attempting to provide leadership for the Senate by passing the bill, but she’s doing her own caucus members and the American electorate a vast disservice by hurrying her legislation through to please a segment of her party.