Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Harry Reid

The Senate minority leader in 2004 who led Dems through their most perilous period (2004 to 2006), the Senator who crossed the red line and said 'We lost the war in Iraq' on the Senate floor only to turn out that indeed America could go away from the precipice, the Senate majority leader who has been more or less listless during these early months of Obama Presidency; has final taken a decision of momentous proportion by putting forward a health care reform bill with 'opt-out' Public Option. It is difficult to believe it is all driven by leadership or statesmanship. In the end it is all driven by his electability in Nevada in 2010. As of now he has no chance to win that Senate re-election. With this 'red meat to base' he is hopping right back. True, this is how democracy works; but the decision does not seem to be done with best interests of Americans in mind.

Public Option in itself without 'iron clad' built in mechanisms to control costs is of no use. It can very well exasperate the cost burden on Federal Government. Though Senate Finance Bill has provisions for an independent Medical commission to control costs; back door attempts, like last week, to reimburse doctor fees at $250 Billion over ten years outside the scope of Health Care Reform bill make you nervous. It makes you nervous because Congress has so far no history in managing costs and there are no signs that it would change soon. In stead of focusing on getting a fiscally responsible bill, to strengthen Baucus Bill further so that it withstands cost irresponsible pressure from House; Sen. Reid simply joined the chorus of Public Option and essentially gave up efforts to get a consensus among 60 Senators. In the process he let go Sen. Snowe's vote too which otherwise President Obama was chasing for right political reasons.

One is compelled to say, Sen. Reid threw caution to wind, as Ezra Klein points, because it will be difficult for many centrist Democrats to block the cloture of this bill by filibustering it. Though such Democrats would in the end may vote against it in the final passage; cloture will be there now. In that sense, Health Care Reform with Public Option has come quite near to reality.

Things could still change further if like Sen. Reid, some more Senators feel back home political pressure in their respective states, making them to take strong positions. Or the bill after the conference will be really badly compromised so as many centrists in House and Senate would not accept it. In a way, the perverse signal from Sen. Reid's this move is to abandon any consensus, national interests and to simply respond to electoral pressures / compulsions. You can find many House Members and Senators in similar positions who may abandon caution and discipline which can result pretty quickly in unraveling of the whole thing. That will be the worry for White House. Of course, White House would prefer to err on the Left side if that is what is needed to get the Health Care Reform rather than insisting on a perfectly fiscally balanced reform. The thinking will be, erring on Left will play to the Liberal Gallery resulting in keeping the Dem hold on Congress and that will enable President Obama to take any necessary actions to rectify the excesses on Left side. But as like despite playing to the base Sen. Reid's reelection may be still challenged; many other Dems can still find themselves in harder spots for the next year's election. Coming looses in Virginia Governor race and possibly in New Jersey Governor race too will set in motion a political wave 'checking the influence of' Barack Obama.

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