Left for dead after the upset victory of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, health care reform came roaring back tonight. After a week of arm twisting and persuasion, Speaker Nancy Pelosi locked up the votes to pass the original Senate bill.  The bill now goes to the President for his signature after which the fixes to the Senate Bill will go to the Senate for passage thru the reconciliation process.  See link.  In an interesting twist the Republicans no votes to the fixes in the Senate bill will essentially be yes votes towards keeping Ben Nelson’s infamous “cornhusker kickback” in place.  A competent political party would use it to highlight the Republican transformation into the Party of No, but this is the Democrats we are talking about.

One heartening thing in the last week is the emergence of the Democratic spine.  In the aftermath of the Brown victory many Democrats were ready to fold.  To me it made no sense.  The yes votes on the previous bill were already on record in the Senate and the House and the Democrats were going to get pilloried for it.  The Democrats are not likely to get as big a majority in the near future.  Failure to pass health care reform after coming so close guaranteed a dispirited base that would not turn out in November.  Now Barack Obama and the Democrats can go into the elections by pointing to the legislative accomplishment of our generation that even with its many flaws makes the United States the last industrialized country in the world to provide universal health care access.

The Republicans will run on a platform on repeal.  Don’t hold your breath on them ever actually passing a bill repealing a ban on insurance companies canceling policies for sick people,  denying health care coverage for pre-existing conditions or subsidies for the poor to obtain health insurance.  In their honester and off the record moments the Republicans will admit that as well.  As in Massachusetts this bill will grow in popularity.  Maybe if the Republicans break from their thrall of right wing talk radio they will work with the Democrats to get meaningful cost control provisions and tort reform into the bill.

The saddest part of this debate was the Republican encouragement (place of honor goes to Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann) of the heated rhetoric from the right that this bill epitomized creeping fascism.  They went all in on the policy articulated by Jim DeMint of South Carolina that stopping health care reform would break the Obama presidency.  All of this on a bill very similar to Romney care in Massachusetts and similar to the bill proposed by Bob Dole in 1994 made any compromise impossible.  There were legitimate and principled reasons to oppose the bill, but they were drowned out in the cacophony right wing talk radio and Fox News (with Republican encouragement) helped create.

Ezra Klein on the left notes the problem with judging the “extremism” of a bill solely on partisan backing.  (Link to full article)

The secondary lesson of this was that we really judge the extremism of legislation based on the positioning of Republicans and Democrats. If I’d told you that the Obama administration was going to release a health-care bill that would attract every Senate Democrat — from Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer to Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman — and either endorsements or neutrality from the American Medical Association, the hospital industry, the pharmaceutical industry, AARP, labor, and much of the insurance industry (though they’re press releases have become more oppositional recently), you’d have thought that was a pretty moderate, consensus-oriented bill. Which it is! But most Americans don’t think that because the Republicans decided to treat it as the second coming of fascism.

David Frum on the right terms this as a Republican Waterloo (in contrast to Senator DeMint’s fervent hope). (link to full article)

A huge part of the blame for today’s disaster attaches to conservatives and Republicans ourselves.

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Could a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

We followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and they led us to abject and irreversible defeat.

There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped. Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making was rendered impossible. How do you negotiate with somebody who wants to murder your grandmother? Or – more exactly – with somebody whom your voters have been persuaded to believe wants to murder their grandmother?

The fascism thing was always a bit silly.  I did chuckle a bit when I saw the Abba clip of Waterloo as an ode to Senator DeMint on Yglesias (See here) with the joke that “[o]f course Swedes have been living for decades now in the sort of bleak tyranny where illness doesn’t cause people to go bankrupt.”

A huge night for President Obama who has quietly been racking up an impressive array of legislative victories.  Speaker Pelosi once again delivered the goods.  The Democrats are not entirely out of the woods since the dysfunctional Senate still has to pass the fixes to the original bill.  Failure to pass them by reconciliation (Senator Reid supposedly has the signed support of at least 52 Senators) will cause an irretrievable breakdown between the Democrats in the House and the Senate and could backfire on the President.  That is about the only hope the Republicans have to salvage this fiasco.  In the meantime, the meltdown from Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Malkin, Ingraham, Limbaugh and other right wing screedmongers will be fun to watch.

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