One thing is obvious this St Patrick’s Day: very few people in Washington are thinking about Ireland, north or south. Obama’s healthcare bill is the only thing people are talking about. The general perception (ie from both left and right is that Obama has been strangely passive. Past Presidents have be active in writing law and then offering it to Congress to rip up, or disagree with. In this case, President Obama has delegated much of the initial drafting to Congress. The bill before them now has striped out a lot of the more controversial provisions, like the possibility of state funded abortions. But it has annoyed some Democrats that their leadership in Congress has agreed to abandon a public option (meaning all government will flow into the expensive private system) or an expansion of Medicare. Jane Hamsher:
The Senate bill isnt a starter home, its a sink hole. It needs to die so something else can take its place. It doesnt matter whether people are on the right or the left once they understand the con job thats about to be foist upon them, they agree.
That might be the sensible thing to do. Except, that US politics seems to be even more locked down than our own little regional affair in Stormont.
If and when Congress clears healthcare out of its inbox, the mid term elections will dominate the minds of the mainstream press and the US’s vast army of voluble bloggers. Yep, just over a year after the Obama ‘audacity of change’ election, the Democrats in the House (along with a third of the Senate, and a collection of Mayoral and gubernatorial contests now face a ‘throw the bums out’ election (in a poll released by NBC last night, 50% of US voters said they would vote out their congressman) in November.
Back in 1993, when Bill (and Hillary) Clinton tried and failed to get medicare reform through Congress had a trust rating of 70%. Now, according to the NBC poll (PDF copy), it is down to 17%.
The vicious culture wars that has slowly asserted its grip on US politics (and which once Obama promised he would bring to an end) seems to have trashed the bipartisanship that once allowed the US federal government to actually pass some law. Although getting a majority in the House works, it is not good enough to pass a bill in the Senate. When the Democrats lost Ted Kennedy’s old Massachusetts seat to Scott Brown, they definitively lost their filibuster-proofing.
In Washington, it seems, it is the game that counts, not the policy. A few weeks back (before he declared himself a candidate in the Democratic primary in California, Mickey Kaus argued that:
For months, both GOP and Fox hosts have been talking about socialized medicine and death panels and vicious Medicare cuts and the government coming between you and your doctor, etc. If Democrats pass the bill and none of this happens, Republican opponents will be more than defeated. They’ll be discredited.
But as PoliticsDaily notes:
Where the quandary comes in for Democrats is that the [NBC] survey found 67 percent of Republican respondents said they were very interested in the November elections compared to 46 percent of Democrats.
Moral appears low amongst Democrats on Capitol Hill. Some suggest that’s a lot to do with the Obama White House’s aloofness from their team in Congress. They cite poor engagement both with Congress and their external support base. The conventional wisdom, from bloggers to mainstream media insiders, at this moment is that it is the Dems are going to get caned in November. The degree to which they lose seats will depend on whether they can bed in their change and begin selling it.
The buzz now is that despite huge pressure being applied by a very targeted ad campaign at wavering Democrat congressmen, the party is confident of passing the bill. Confident even though the word goes the bill may only pass by one vote. Why? Because although they can pass it with more than one vote, they won’t because voting yes to health care for these guys is almost instant death in November’s mid term elections.
So one will get to take the poison chalice, whilst the other four (it’s rumoured) get to run with the opposition herd.
We should get a result by midnight Eastern Time on Saturday night.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty