Turn off MSNBC. Tune out Howard Dean and Keith Olbermann. The White House has its liberal wing in hand on health care, says White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
“There are no liberals left to get” in the Senate, Emanuel said in an interview, shrugging off some noise from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) that a few liberals might bolt over the compromises made with conservative Democrats.
As the White House leans on conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska for the 60th health care vote, Emanuel has made the case that this generation of liberal political figures will not make the mistake of their predecessors. The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s greatest regret was not cutting a deal with Richard Nixon on universal health care. Former President Bill Clinton has forever rued the day he did not take moderate Republican Sen. John Chafee up on a compromise that could have secured a health care bill early in his presidency.
Liberal senators nearly scuttled the creation of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program -– S-CHIP –- because Clinton compromised with Republicans and agreed to take the program out of Medicaid and involve private insurers.
“Every time they’ve gotten close to the deal, they’ve passed up the opportunity and chosen to walk away from a particular where they’ve lost the forest for the trees,” Emanuel said.
The comments may not endear the powerful White House chief of staff to liberal activists, furious that Senate Democratic leaders, at Emanuel’s urging, cut a deal with Sen. Joe Lieberman to drop a federally run insurance policy option, then eliminate a Medicare buy-in proposal.
“I don’t think the White House recognizes how much trouble they’re in,” said one former Democratic official this morning. “I think they’re miscalaculating what’s happening with progressives and the left. They feel like they’re being taken for granted.”
But Emanuel pointed to a New York Times column by economist Paul Krugman and another coming from National Journal writer Ronald Brownstein pressing for passage of the Senate health bill. “What you’re seeing is the progressive backlash against the progressive backlash,” he said.