As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rubber, Meet Road

We know that the entire conservative movement is laboring tirelessly to block meaningful health care reform this year. They are armed with lies, false outrage, and the ability to whip their supporters into a frenzy with carefully deployed buzz-words. And this goes too for those pretending to engage in bipartisan talks in the Senate Finance Committee's Baucus caucus:

Mike Enzi, one of three Republicans ostensibly negotiating health care reform as part of the Senate's "Gang of Six," told a Wyoming town hall crowd that he had no plans to compromise with Democrats and was merely trying to extract concessions.

"It's not where I get them to compromise, it's what I get them to leave out," Enzi said Monday, according to the Billings Gazette.

Enzi found himself under attack at the town hall simply for sitting in the same room as the three Finance Committee Democrats. Republicans in the crowd called for him to exit the talks. He assured conservatives that his presence was delaying health care reform.

"If I hadn't been involved in this process as long as I have and to the depth as I have, you would already have national health care," he said.

"Someone has to be at the table asking questions," Enzi said. "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."

His alibi for being in the same room as Democrats is that he's there to block reform. So with each day Baucus and Kent Conrad and Jeff Bingaman stay in that room, they enable this obstruction.

I've been saying this for months, but you don't have to wonder any more about the GOP's role in health care reform. And I mean the whole GOP. They exist solely to block it. So if the Democrats actually want a bill, they'll have to get it over, around and through Republicans, not with them. Thinking anything different is just living in a dreamworld.

This comes back to the leadership of the President. This WaPo story is on a completely different subject, but it gives voice to the frustrations of millions upon millions of Obama supporters. They're wondering whether their President bears any resemblance to their candidate.

In recent weeks, as even staunch supporters of the Obama administration's $787 billion two-year stimulus package have questioned the program's lagging pace of job creation, a small but increasingly restive group of African American municipal officials in Southern states have complained that not enough money is reaching communities like those found in the chronically impoverished Delta. Their ranks include (Greenville, MS mayor) Hudson, who frequently encounters constituents steadfastly loyal to Obama but nonetheless asking when help from his administration is coming.

Hudson's life has changed significantly since the president's election. The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs has made her a regular participant in conference calls with other mayors and leading county officials. But with her new access to the powerful in Washington have also come reminders of the expectations that follow any charismatic figure entrusted with the presidency. "I know things have been a little slow for some people," she says. "People see me in our Wal-Mart here and ask, 'We have a new president: When is it all going to get started? When are there going to be jobs?' . . . People here were anticipating that there was going to be a big package of jobs and money with a wrapped bow signed 'Obama' at the bottom."

In other parts of the rural South, local government representatives have also given voice to the mounting frustrations of their communities. The objections are wide-ranging -- everything from stories of confounding red tape in the stimulus program's application process to a general lament that federal officials have sometimes overlooked small communities devoid of the kinds of staffing, computer resources or technical expertise needed for preparing sophisticated grant proposals.

People may not know the ins and outs of the legislative process, but they know they voted for hope, and they want help. Some of the calls may be impractical or rushed, but people thought they were voting for a new era of leadership, and seven months in, they're waiting for that leadership to take hold. In a sense, Obama is a slave to a legislative process that resists change in very significant ways. At the same time, he is not impotent. He can forcefully rebut the fiscal scolds who use every opportunity to argue against something new, whether the economy is booming (don't mess with a good thing) or in crisis (don't add a burden now). He can figure out the legislative means to navigate the bottlenecks of the Congress, bypassing committees or using reconciliation or breaking filibusters.

Nobody says it'll be easy. But at this point, failure to pass anything will demoralize the base and leave progressive change in the waiting room for perhaps another generation. From a political perspective, the Democrats have no choice. And they have no partner on the other side of the aisle. They're going to have to take the leap themselves - and given that, they'd better make any reform the best it can be, or even passage won't save them.

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