While health reform still has a ways to go before enactment, and it is always possible that the two chambers will fail to reach agreement on final language, the odds now strongly favor success before the President’s State of the Union Address. There will be ample time to chronicle the extraordinary journey towards passage that unfolded over this past year and to ruminate on its ultimate policy and political consequences. It is still possible that disgruntled liberals and uncompromising moderates will turn a major policy victory into a political defeat. For now, I’d like to highlight a few elements that stand out to me.
The much-pilloried Harry Reid led an increasingly undemocratic and dysfunctional institution to a stunning victory for the majority party. He deserves an apology from any number of prominent Washingtonians. His House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, burnished her reputation as one of the most powerful and effective Speakers in the history of Congress. Together they succeeded in unifying a fractious party representing diverse constituencies and rightfully fearful of the electoral consequences of their action or inaction.
That success was made possible by the nihilistic strategy of Republican leaders in Congress. Determined to kill the President’s highest social policy priority, they overplayed their hand by forcing all of their party colleagues to forego any serious negotiations with Democrats and by relying on extreme and untruthful rhetoric throughout. They marginalized their party by acting as a parliamentary opposition instead of as responsible members of the first branch of our Madisonian system of separated powers. They could have shaped the legislation more (though properly not entirely) to their liking had they chosen to legislate.
Finally, kudos to those members of the press who managed to keep the substance as well as the politics of health policy reform front and center, and to avoid falling into the trap of simply providing “balance” between competing political operatives. Stellar coverage was provided by bloggers Ezra Klein (washingtonpost.com) and Jonathan Cohn (tnr.com) and New York Times economics reporter David Leonhardt.