Monday, July 20, 2009

Curb the Blue Dogs

If we learned anything from that last time we tried to reform health care in 1993, it was that the Republicans were against it. No matter what the proposal was, no matter if it was aimed at the millions of people who were uninsured or under-insured, and no matter if it would have provided services to children, the Republicans fought it tooth and nail and won. It had nothing to do with the cost, the “government-run” and “rationing” scare tactics, or the ham-handed way the Clinton administration tried to engineer it from the West Wing with Hillary Clinton in charge of it. It had everything to do with the fact that the Republicans did not want to give the Democrats a victory that would have secured them a political advantage in the upcoming elections. William Kristol made the case privately in 1993, and in the 1994 mid-terms they parlayed that plan into the “Contract for America” and the GOP takeover that gave us Newt Gingrich. This time around, the right-wingers are not being so secretive; Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) went on a conference call with “tea party” organizers that defeating health care will “break” President Obama. Of course, they have yet to offer any alternatives to what the president and the Democrats are proposing, but that’s not the point of the exercise in the first place.

President Obama seems to have learned the lesson of 1993, and he’s not going to let the Republicans get away with it. He went on the offensive in his Saturday morning address, and on Sunday he sent his budget director, Peter Orszag, out to joust with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. And while the administration and its allies are bound and determined to keep countering the Republican nay-sayers, it may be some Democrats that could be problematic for them.

It’s fine that the president can handle the Republicans’ message of doom and get out in front of the curve of making the case. The one thing the GOP had going for them in 1993 was party discipline; when they jumped off the cliff, they did it together. This time around, the president needs to enforce it among his own party. If health care reform craters this time around, it shouldn’t be at the hands of the party that has made it their mission since the New Deal.

HT to Steve Benen.