Forward Movement By Staying In DC
Ron Wyden just said on Andrea Mitchell that he would be prepared to put off the August recess to get health care done. The President would not commit to that in his conference call with bloggers, but I think it's a good idea. The House doesn't want to vote before the Senate. I think that's clear. The Blue Dogs, who are meeting with the President today, don't want to take a tough vote that they might not have to take, depending on the Senate Finance Committee's proposals. At the same time, I think even Democrats who are essentially conservative understand that their days are numbered if nothing passes. The reason Jim DeMint's quote about "Obama's Waterloo" is so powerful, the reason that internal GOP memos calling on Republicans to "engage in every activity" to slow down a bill, with the concurrent notion that it would sink the Democratic agenda and the Democratic President, is because it's fundamentally correct. Certainly the President knows that, that's why he's using it as a rallying cry. And the lesson of 1994 is that, with an unpopular President, the first group to pay the price in midterm elections are the same moderate Democrats resisting passage.
There's another former congressman who was frequently associated with the centrists and who learned this lesson rather well. Before Rahm Emmanuel was Barack Obama's chief of staff, he was in Congress trying to get guys like Minnick elected. In September of 2007, he gave an interview to Politico on the lessons he learned from 1994. “You’ve got to have a plan for universal coverage," Emmanuel said. "But you also have to have some product at the end of the process you can deliver.” You may not win, in other words. But you cannot fail to pass a bill.
Emmanuel has carried that lesson with him into the Obama White House. "The only thing that's not negotiable is success," he likes to say. The worst outcome for the party -- in part because it's the worst outcome for its marginal members -- is defeat. Voters punish defeat. That's what happened to Minnick's Democratic predecessor in Idaho's First District, Larry LaRocco. LaRocco captured the seat in 1990 only to lose it in 1994, the last time Democrats failed to sign a health-care reform bill. It's possible, of course, that LaRocco would have lost his seat with or without health-care reform. But it's evidence that a bill not passing was not a great outcome for Idaho's lonely Democratic congressman. If you're a centrist in a district that doesn't like Democrats and events turn your constituents further against your party, your odds of survival are very poor.
This may mean that Democrats get a bill that isn't particularly good, which would eventually bite back at them as well, but over a longer time horizon and with the ability to tweak in the interim.
The best way to make everyone happy is to push back the deadline but keep everyone in Washington to work on it. It shows that Congress is diligent and willing to work out the details. If everyone's worried about reaction in the districts (which I think is a bit unfounded) during the recess, don't have one! Stay on schedule by continuing to work.