08/30/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who Wins the Battle During August Recess Will Determine the Fate of Health Care Reform

Usually when I leave DC for a few days, as I did recently, my mood and hopefulness about the country improves -- it's a lot easier to be hopeful when you meet real people working in their communities for change. And usually when I talk with my insider Democratic friends in DC, my optimism fades because everyone in DC tends to be so cynical and overly-cautious. But on this trip, I got really depressed with the steady drumbeat of bad news coming out of the traditional media about health care. When I got back yesterday, though, and started talking to people who were actually working on things here, I remembered how relentlessly negative big media tends to be, how every story emphasizes the conventional wisdom story line about how health care reform is impossible to pass.

This health care fight is just one motherf-er of a battle. Every step of the way will be really hard and really painful. The final trade offs will piss virtually everybody off. Passing something real, something that actually matters, has never been more than a 50/50 proposition. But talking with people on the Hill and at the White House, and watching what has happened over the last 24 hours, I now believe our chances at real reform are still alive.

The fact is, Henry Waxman and Nancy Pelosi forged a deal with the Blue Dogs that didn't require them to give up anything that really mattered very much on the substance. While the Energy and Commerce bill will be the worst of the 3 bills reported out of House committees, it still has most of the important things you would want to see in a health care reform bill, including a decent public option. It is a great thing that progressive members of the House are pushing back hard against the bad compromises that were made, though, because progressives need to send a clear signal that they will not be rolled. When the 3 bills are merged during the August recess, that pressure will help deliver a very solid version of the legislation.

Speaking of the August recess, while I am not thrilled that the House put off the floor vote until after it happens, that is also not a disaster for us. But it is a test for those of us who believe in serious health care reform. The battle over who wins the organizing and message fight in the August recess -- grassroots reformers or the astroturf insurance lobby in league with right wingers everywhere -- will decide the fate of health care reform, pure and simple.

The conventional wisdom in the media is simply wrong about the nature of the health care fight: the Senate Finance committee is not determinative. That's what the Republicans, the insurance lobbyists, the conservative Democrats want everyone to believe, and that mantra is being pushed day and night in the offices and hallways of the DC establishment. But it doesn't have to be that way. Four committees out of five did the right thing, and the signal that I'm getting from the White House is that they are still fighting hard for the public option, and Senate Finance is not the end all and be all. What will change the dynamic is progressives winning the organizing and messaging fight in August. Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate, and at least two Republican Senators from a small progressive-leaning state in play. If our side out-organizes the insurance/right wing astroturfers, if the White House and Reid and Pelosi put every bit of muscle into winning the fight for real reform, it can still happen. Everything is at stake here, as I wrote yesterday: if we don't win this fight, the Obama Presidency, Democratic prospects in the 2010 election, and any hopes we have for victories on other big issues are all in deep, deep trouble. But we still have a real shot at winning this battle, and now is when we need to pull out all the stops to do it.