When Barack Obama reached the White House with 60 Democratic seats in the Senate and a sizable majority in the House, the political stars were supposedly aligned: health reform was a foregone conclusion. Well, you know what they say about assuming. We hit August and the crazies came out of the woodwork in every town across the country, with pistols strapped to holsters on their legs, holding angrily (and hilariously) misspelled signs declaring “No Pubic Option,” yelling for government to keep its hands off of their Medicare, and in some cases even biting off fingertips. Cue the death knells.
Well, not so fast. Congress returned to Washington and put its nose to the proverbial grindstone and soon the nonsensical chatter of death panels–a torch lit by Sarah Palin and carried proudly by Betsy McCaughey, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity–died down and now seems almost completely gone. The notoriously foot-dragging Senate Finance committee managed to pass a bill, and even managed to get a Republican, Maine’s Olympia Snowe, to vote for it in the process.
Just days ago, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the version of the health care bill that makes it to the Senate floor for a vote will include a public plan option that allows states to “opt-out” if they so choose. This was big news given that the Finance bill included no such option. Reid really appears to be asserting himself in the process, but as Jonathan Cohn writes, there are still plenty of centrist Democrats who can sink even this “watered-down” public option.
What does all of this have to do with a cocktail party? Not much. No, it’s a rather weak analogy, but my beloved Georgia Bulldogs are headed to Jacksonville tomorrow to take on the number one team in the nation–The Florida Gators–in what is affectionately known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” The conventional wisdom? A lop-sided victory for Florida and an embarrassing game for the Dawgs. The Gators are favored by 15. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Florida–and looking back at history, I’d put my money on a last-minute effort to derail health reform–oh, wait, AHIP is already doing that.
But there’s hope. In 1985 the Gators were #1 in the polls. The Dawgs were #17. UGA was far from great that year, but they came away with the win 24-3. In the same way, the conventional wisdom is that the status quo is #1 and will successfully resist health reform. But some things just seem to be going right. The key players–Pelosi and Reid of late–are playing one of the best games of their respective careers, and that’s the kind of showing that it will take to pull off the upset and get reform done this time around.