Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Save the filibuster, guardian of health care reform

Andrew Sullivan trusts that health care reform will remake the country's political landscape:
I don't think this is about a short term five point bump. Here's what has happened: a liberal Democratic president has just passed universal health insurance. No Democratic president has done something like that since Johnson. It is designed to show that government can do something real and tangible for the working poor. And in that respect, its impact on the political culture will be deep and lasting, unless the opposition can stop it, demonize it, or jump up and down enough to make it seem as if Obama is out of step with the times rather than them.
My suspicion is that they will fail in the end to achieve this; and that this new landmark for liberalism will reorient American politics the way Reagan's first year did - profoundly.

I agree with this read in principle and in fervent hope. But it worries me that the health care exchanges won't power up until 2014 (if HCR passes) -- while cuts to Medicare Advantage start right away.  Couple this with Democrats' flirtation with weakening the filibuster, and that leaves me chewing a few cuticles about a worst-case scenario: Democrats lose lots of seats and maybe a chamber of Congress in 2010, and the Obama administration goes into a Clintonian holding pattern. The asset bubble bursts in China, or there's some other second wave economic tsunami, or a successful terrorist attack, and the Republicans win the presidency in 2012.  With the filibuster weakened -- and the precedent set for weakening it further -- Republicans repeal health care reform before the exchanges ever get started.

It's always easy to spin out worst-case scenarios.  But I still think that the Democrats, having (almost) squeezed health care reform through the eye of the needle, should regard the filibuster as the bulwark against rollback.

The best cure for the legislative sclerosis blamed on the filibuster is a change in political culture, effected once the Republicans reap the long-term whirlwind for their obstructionism.  Meanwhile, guarded by the filibuster, health care reform will probably have the long-term effect that Andrew envisions.


  1. Very smart insights, and I do hope that we won't have to test your theory the hard way. But I wouldn't worry about health care. If the Republicans take the House in 2010, they'll be too busy impeaching Obama to have time for health care. And if they win the Presidency in 2012, well, the human race is doomed.

    Hmm, now that I think about it, extinction is kind of a solution to our health care problems, heh heh.

  2. Man up, cupcake - anything else giving you the vapors?

    Let's get the bill passed, then be proud, be brave and be optimistic about the future. Try it, you'll be amazed.

  3. effected once the Republicans reap the long-term whirlwind for their obstructionism


    Um, usually when a Party passes a bill that the public opposes, where taxes start immediately, where benefits are only years in the future, when the promised 'budget savings' have never been seen before, where the estimates of the budget impact were politically determined (the CBO didn't know that it was counting Medicare savings 2x before the vote? Not credible they didn't know; credible that they were on teh D team..), there's no long-term payment.