Ezra has some of the text up of remarks Obama made on a conference call with progressive bloggers, and if you're paranoid about health care reform being whittled down to meaninglessness due to congressional addiction to lobbyists' sweet nothings, I can't say his remarks were especially comforting.
I am less interested in making sure there's a litmus test of perfection on every committee than I am in going ahead and getting a bill off the floor of the House and off the floor of the Senate. Eighty percent of those two bills will overlap. There's going to be 20 percent that will be different in terms of how it will be funded, its approach to the public plan, its pay-or-play provisions.
The concern is that Obama is using the word "perfection" where your average health care reform supporter would say "feasibility". We're not stupid, and we know that for a lot of politicians, Obama included, getting something passed is more important than what actually gets passed a lot of the time, and he doesn't even try to hide this. But for people out in the real world who need health insurance, a bill that's been stripped of the most important elements, a workable public option, a health care reform bill that doesn't actually get them affordable health care is no health care reform bill at all.
There is simply too much euphemism in these remarks for my comfort levels. Also, defensiveness. Like this:
We shouldn't automatically assume that if any of the bills coming out of the committees don't meet our test, that there is a betrayal or failure. I think it's an honest process of trying to reconcile a lot of different interests in a very big bill.
It's true that a lot of people have a part to play in all this, including doctors and nurses as well as people who want to politicize certain kinds of health care (especially abortion) and see this as an opportunity to do so. But at the end of the day, there are only two major interests that are at odds, and to suggest otherwise is throwing up a red herring. Those interested parties are insurance companies and people with human bodies and all their frailties. Insurance companies want to take as much money as they can from you while dispensing few to no services, to maximize profit. Human beings with bodies want to pay what they can afford and actually get care when they need it. There's not really a way to make everyone happy in a situation where the two parties are completely at odds. Democrats may fancy that they're compromise geniuses, but this is a split the baby problem. And fuck anyone who thinks insurance company profits are as (or in many cases more) important than the health care needs of their fellow human beings.
Democrats need a strong dose of stepping back periodically and looking at the big picture, including their own precarious hold on power. I realize lobbyists are good at distracting politicians, and changing their focus from, "How will I get re-elected in 2010 or 2012?" to "How can I please this very insistent person and/or get a really sweet dinner on their dime?", but now is the time to summon the superpower of thinking about the people who voted for you, not the people parked in your office, dropping crocodile tears for their benefactors. Because those people are in a state of high anxiety right now, and they are perfectly capable of responding by not voting at all, or voting for your Republican opponent, if they've determined that you haven't done a goddamn thing to relieve their woes.
Here's what it looks like from the viewpoint of Joe or Jane Voter: The bank bailout was a giant giveaway of our money to the assholes who got us into this horrible economic situation, a giant payoff as a thank you for fucking us over and pissing in our faces. The economic stimulus package doesn't seem to have any effect at all on the exploding unemployment rate. We're still in an unwinnable war in Iraq. Outside of appointing a popular Supreme Court justice, the Democrats have done nothing for us.
The Republican argument will be mild, but effective: No one's going to do shit for you, but at least if we're the people putting the screws to you, we won't be spending nearly as much tax money on it. It won't be true---Republicans are more efficient at digging the country into debt than Democrats could ever dream of being---but their perceived honesty about how they're not going to do shit for you will feel refreshing to the public, who will reward them by saying, "Palin who?" and voting for them.
This can all be averted if the Democrats actually put the voters first on health care reform. For most people, health care costs are a constant worry, even in flush times, and right now, it's seems like so much more mandatory flushing of cash down the toilet. They will be incredibly grateful if they get some relief. More to the point, they'll be interested in protecting health care once its in place, and they'll trust Democrats to do that. Out of pure self interest, Democrats need to consider very carefully whether or not they want to pass health care "reform" that doesn't result in easily understood benefits for your everyday person. If we don't see it in our wallets, or at least in a burden lifted off our shoulders, it didn't happen. Simple as that. Sometimes Democrats feel like that boyfriend who tells you over and over how much you mean to him, but then he doesn't call, forgets dates, and gives you a card and a CD for a band you told him you didn't like for your birthday. And after you've put up with it for awhile, you DTMFA.