David Plouffe has some good advice for Democrats:
Pass a meaningful health insurance reform package without delay. Americans' health and our nation's long-term fiscal health depend on it. I know that the short-term politics are bad. It's a good plan that's become a demonized caricature. But politically speaking, if we do not pass it, the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside. If we do pass it, dozens of protections and benefits take effect this year. ... Only if the plan becomes law will the American people see that all the scary things Sarah Palin and others have predicted -- such as the so-called death panels -- were baseless. We own the bill and the health-care votes. We need to get some of the upside. (P.S.: Health care is a jobs creator.)
Plouffe’s broad points are both exactly right and, unfortunately, infrequently understood by professional Democrats -- and not just in terms of the current health care discussions. (They’re also a pretty good reminder that comprehensive health care reform should have been passed quickly last year.)
But Plouffe’s stipulation that the “short-term politics are bad” concedes too much to skittish Democrats and media naysayers. That stipulation was nothing more than a throw-away in Plouffe’s piece, but it’s a common assumption, so it’s worth considering whether it’s true.
I don’t think it is.
Let’s say Democrats were to pass a robust health care reform package next week. What, exactly, is the downside? As Plouffe notes, the downsides are already in place, and they aren’t going away. Are they really likely to get much worse? That seems unlikely -- particularly considering the (comparatively, at least) favorable coverage they’d get for accomplishing a legislative goal they’ve sought for decades.
But that’s only half of the equation. When you say “the short-term politics are bad,” you have to consider: Compared to what?
In this case, that’s compared to not passing health care reform. And that, I think, would be politically devastating for Democrats. Remember: the downsides are locked in place. Republicans aren’t going to stop hitting Democrats for supporting health care reform; the GOP base isn’t going to become demoralized by Democrats walking away from reform; etc. And by walking away from health care reform they’ve been working on for a year and talking about for decades, Democrats will also look like they aren’t capable of governing and don’t stand by their core values. They’ll face weeks of news reports -- not to mention Republicans -- portraying them as weak and craven on top of the negatives they already face.
Compared to not passing health care reform, passing health care reform is a political winner, not a loser -- in both the short and the long term.
(My current column for Media Matters is about a related topic: the shallowness of the media's political analysis, one example of which is a tendency to assess the political merits of a situation without considering the political merits of the alternatives.)
UPDATE: Mike Lux explains what passing "a meaningful health insurance reform package" means:
The path, which has been suggested by many other people as well as me, is to simply pass the full Senate bill, and then immediately pass a clean-up bill through the reconciliation process, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate. The clean-up bill could include the provisions that progressives in the House and Senate, as well as wide majorities of the American people, have been demanding: the compromise on the benefits tax issue, more affordability for low and moderate income folks, ending insurers' exemption from anti-trust laws, a national insurance exchange instead of the weaker fragmented state run exchanges, and yes, some form of that public option that voters and activists keep saying we want. Doing this kind of double bill approach would allow all the good insurance regulations and other provisions in both the Senate and House versions of the bill that can't be passed through the reconciliation process because of Senate rules to still get done, while making the bill far more politically popular with voters and healing the rifts caused with the base because of all the bad compromises forced by Lieberman and other Democratic conservatives in the Senate.