More is at stake than the health of the American people in the congressional effort to overhaul the health care system. The loyalty of the American public is up for grabs, too.
House Speaker Nancy (D-Calif.) told a small group of reporters Wednesday that the GOP, whatever its policy concerns, was intent on blocking health care reform out of fear that it will give a generational boost to the Democratic Party.
Pelosi, in painting the debate in starkly political terms, was careful to say clearly that it was the Republican Party that did so first. But underlying her remarks is a belief held by many in both parties that if Democrats can pass health care legislation that expands coverage and brings down cost they can lock up the majority for years to come, much as the party did after implementing the New Deal reforms.
"When the democrats -- and hopefully bipartisanly -- pass this health care reform, this is bigger than anything most of us have ever done in our political lives," Pelosi said.
Stopping health care reform could indeed be the Democratic "Waterloo," as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) recently put it. But its successful passage it could be a similar catastrophe for the GOP because they will be seen as the party that opposed the most significant legislation of decades..
"Republicans know that passing real health care reform, meaningful health care reform for the American people, which is relevant to their lives [and] solves their problems, is politically powerful, and they must stop it," she said. "[T]hey will do everything they can to stop it, not only because they disagree philosophically, but because they know politically that this is so very powerful."
They're not the only ones who know. Pelosi said that an analysis of the plan showed that in the average congressional district, roughly 100,000 people would have health care who didn't have it before.
That kind of direct improvement to people's lives is the kind of thing people remember when they head to the ballot box. "It's more powerful electorally than energy [legislation aimed at staving off climate change], although that is a big issue in terms of new green jobs and the rest of that," she said, "but, [Republicans] know this is the most noticeable initiative that Congress can take, that improves the lives of the American people, and they must stop it."
As evidence of that noticeable change, she pointed to her own district. The analysis estimated that 75,000 people would have access to quality, affordable health insurance. The number is high in most districts, she said, because in San Francisco the number of uninsured is lower because the city has a program to cover people up to 26 years old.
Other benefits: 8,100 seniors would have the "doughnut hole," the time when they have to pay for prescription drugs out of pocket, closed; providers would receive $209 million a year for what is now uncompensated health care; 440 families would escape health-crisis-related bankruptcy, and 22,000 small businesses would get tax credits to cover employees.
Meanwhile, only 2.8 percent of the population would pay the surtax used to fund a large part of the reform. And that number would tumble, she stressed, if the tax only hit families making at least a million dollars a year, the proposal she's pushing.
The GOP opposition to the Democratic reform bills is based on philosophy, said Michael Steel, spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio). "Questioning a political opponent's motives is a typical tactic when you're losing on policy. The American people and Republicans want the same thing: health care reform that lowers cost and increases access," he said. "Democrats are foundering because they insist on offering a government takeover that will raise costs and cause millions of Americans to lose their current health coverage."
Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, no stranger to political calculations, noted on National Public Radio Friday morning that few Republicans had distanced themselves from DeMint's "Waterloo" analysis.
Pelosi has been drawn into the political fray reluctantly, she said. Her comments about the GOP were made in an interview with three reporters from the Huffington Post, Washington Post and The Nation magazine and came in response to a question about the DeMint prediction.
"I would imagine that got some level of discomfort, about [DeMint's] saying that, because he blew the cover. He said it for what it is. But this is very big, and they will do anything to stop this," she said. "I don't like them putting [health care reform] into political terms."