Democrats have an absolutely clear path to passing a strong health care reform bill quickly that will re-establish their image for being able to deliver real change, begin to rebuild their bond with their base, and allow them to move on to dealing with jobs and the economy. To fail to take this path will lead to a worse meltdown and beat-down than the 1994 or 1980 elections. What they have to do is buck up their courage, stop acting out, and get the deal done.
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.
If the Democrats turn from this path and give up on comprehensive reform after spending the last year working on it and coming so close, it would be one of the greatest tragedies in American history, a historic failure of nerve so unforgivable that I think it might literally break the party in two. If after spending a year on this, and putting Democrats' votes on the board in both houses in favor of it, they walk away and get nothing, they would be seen as utterly incompetent by swing and base voters alike. And don't think that going back to the drawing board and trying to get a scaled back bill that "everyone is in favor of" gets anything done. Having been successful by being the party of no, what exactly is it that the Republicans- any of them- would agree to? Olympia Snowe got every single thing she asked for in the Senate bill after delaying the bill for six months, and she still voted no. What makes anyone think she or any other Republican would vote yes for anything in an election year when it's working so well for the Republicans to say no to everything? And how long would it take to work out a deal with Republicans when we tried for a year and not one of them agreed to anything? While I'm asking questions, let me ask another: exactly which voters do Democrats think we pick up by walking away from health care reform after a year of work and already recorded votes on it in both houses? Certainly not the desperately disappointed base. Do Democrats think swing voters will reward them for spending a year on something, and then giving up on it and getting nothing? Swing voters are wanting results and real change. How does delivering nothing changing nothing on the main thing they have worked on the last year help them with those voters?
Okay, enough of asking rhetorical questions. As President Obama likes to put it: let me be clear. Democrats need to calm down, pull themselves together, and pass the Senate bill and then a parallel bill to clean up the problems in the Senate bill. Progressive leaders like Raul Grijalva need to stop making threats, join hands with their Democratic brethren, and just get this done. Conservative Democrats had their way in the Senate, but now they need to stop complaining and telling Democrats they should give up on passing anything, and get with the program. The President needs to settle down and stop having a failure of nerves, and sending negative signals to Congress. It is time to take the path available to us on health care, do what we should have done four months and get it over with, and move on to jobs, banks, energy, and immigration. By actually delivering on the change we promised, by actually taking on the special interests we said we would and solving problems, Democrats can rebound from this bleak moment and do fine in the next election. All it takes is a little bit of courage and common sense to take the path in front of them.