Bad Time For A Recess
I was on NPR's Tell Me More this morning (sorry for the late word!), and you can listen to it here. In it I talked about the insanity of Congress taking a three-week break in August when the reform bills are reaching a critical point. While Congress goes home for three weeks, 145,000 people will lose their health care, and with such a sense of urgency, it makes no sense for Congress to let up on the gas, especially when we've debated this issue for 60 years or more. Ezra Klein shares my concern:
The August deadline, I fear, is actually getting a bit confused. The point isn't that the bill needs to be done by Aug. 6, and no other date will do. It's not about an arbitrary point on the calender. If Aug. 16 were no different than Aug. 6, it wouldn't matter which date saw the completion of the process. But Aug. 16 is not the same as Aug. 6. Aug. 16 is part of Congress's month-long vacation.
Right now, whatever its dysfunctions, there's a certain rhythm to health-care reform on the Hill. The committees have been working on this for months. There's back-and-forth with the Congressional Budget Office, there are ad hoc coalitions of interested senators, there are negotiations and amendments and draft proposals and discussions. It's not pretty stuff, as each day's headlines show. But it's the stuff of progress. To be so close to a finished product and a mark-up and a vote and then, for no actual reason, abruptly stop, is insane. It means a cessation to discussions, negotiations, relationships, hearings, to the work of legislating. It means that the hard work of creating this policy will stop for a month and give way to the politics of fighting over it. That's not healthy. "Ideas can melt in the sun," Nancy Pelosi said when I interviewed her Wednesday, "especially in August."
That's important. It's not that I believe progressives fear losing a "battle of ideas" with conservatives in members' districts over health care - I actually think the progressive activist class will get out to town hall meetings and agitate. Progressives are winning the ad wars, and great ads like this will continue. And Organizing for America was practically invented for this kind of outcome. The difference is that Chris Cillizza will for a month write about the big political brouhaha over health care instead of the Congress coming to a negotiated agreement. You'll see tea partiers in the streets and basically political theater.
The President says that the important thing is now to keep working and he does recognize the importance of not wasting one day of delay. And Sen. Reid does expect the Senate Finance Committee to finish their bill by August 7. But this is a mistake, for political reasons in addition to stalling the policy.
...One of my colleagues on the radio today, Blue Dog Henry Cuellar, objected to my characterization that the recess is a "vacation," saying it's an opportunity to listen to his constituents. You can also do that with, I don't know, a phone. But this means that he'll certainly be listening to gauge where to go with his vote. So Kevin Drum is right - if Obama's email list ever needed to be put to use, it's now. They should flood their Representatives' offices.