05/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama and Democrats Take a Step in the Right Direction, While GOP Aims to Scare Bluedogs

Crossposted from

As a vocal progressive critic of president Obama, I have to give him credit when it's due. Yesterday, Obama made it clear that he'd drawn a line and reached a point where he was moving forward with his health care plan, with or without the Republican party.

This is a decisive, strong leadership move. It's coming late, but, better late than never.

The Democrats are seriously talking about using reconciliation, something which Harry Reid seemed to have taken off the table for far too long. That's good too. They could do better. When Jim Bunning filibustered unemployment funding, Harry Reid should have jumped in and used reconciliation to pass the funding. That would have set a tone, showing that reconciliation could cut through gridlock and get things done.

Reconciliation has been used close to two dozen times in recent years, more by Republicans than Democrats. Harry Reid should break that record and show he has the power and the courage and leadership skills to use it. It might just salvage his re-election.

Between now and the November elections, Reid and the senate Democrats should use reconciliation every chance they get. Let the Mitch McConnell whine about each one while the Democrats call him a hypocrite and remind the voters how Bush passed his tax breaks and how COBRA, health care for children, even medicare were passed using reconciliation.

The truth is, the recent Republican talking points have not been aimed at the public. They've been aimed at blue dog Democrats, with the goal of scaring them into going against the wave the democratic party has stirred up. Republicans are all saying the same thing -- that the health care bill will bankrupt the US, that it takes half a trillion dollars from medicare and that the majority of Americans don't want it.

Mitch McConnell says that if, by the odd chance it passes, the health reform vote will be THE issues that Republicans will use to run against incumbents. That's a threat to bluedogs.

So here's the deal. The reform bill is a disappointment to many who want real reform. It fails to deliver a public option. I've written extensively about just how far from the "REAL THING" it actually is. But, at this point, if the Democrats want to hold their advantage in the house and senate, this is what they need to do. If the do the RIGHT thing, they'll take away immunity from monopoly laws. They'll include legislation that allows states to pass single payer legislation, and even better, provide funding for state feasibility studies.

If they're really smart, they'll throw in medicare for pregnant mothers and force Republicans to vote against a life affirming amendment that expands medicare outside of the senior realm. This will break the ice and set a legislative precedent for expanding medicare.

There are ways to use the current legislation to soften and even break through elements of resistance to single payer, ways to start building the foundation to the next round of legislation. I give Arlen Specter credit for being one of the first to talk about using reconciliation to pass health care reform -- he did so at the Pennsylvania progressive summit meeting. If he's smart, he and his opponent, Joe Sestak, will push for medicare for pregnant mothers as a way to prevent abortion. That would pull the rug out from under the Republican candidate, Pat Toomey.

Obama made a good move yesterday. There is a long list of disappointing decisions he's made that must still be held against him and his number one, Rahm Emanuel. The verdict is not yet in on the Obama presidency, not by a long shot. But at least, when he gets something right, even his detractors on the left should give him credit. If he shows more strength, more willingness to be a strong leader, there's incredible possibility for what he can accomplish. Personally, I think he needs to dump Rahm Emanuel, a tough guy who has, with his constant conciliation to right wingers, made Obama appear to be very weak and ineffective.

Obama should dump Emanuel and start talking to Van Jones, to Bernie Sanders, to Marcy Kaptur and Alan Grayson. These are people with guts and the courage to take strong stands.

The Democratic party is showing signs of life, in the leadership and courage department -- not enough to give Obama a pass, not by any means. But it's a beginning.