Health care reform advocates are concerned that passing a scaled-back version of reform legislation -- an option being considered by President Obama and Democratic Party leaders -- could end up playing into the hands of Republican electoral politics.
On Thursday, House Democrats debated two ways of getting a health care reform bill passed. The first is to pass the Senate's bill -- though only on the condition that additional reforms would be tackled in a separate filibuster-proof bill, to be passed through a process called reconciliation. The second approach is to pare down the package -- stripping it to its unobjectionable core (insurance regulation, money to help people buy care, etc.) -- and use that as a building block for future legislation.
That the latter strategy is being seriously considered by progressive lawmakers is a testament to how large an albatross health care reform has become for the party. But the worry, for some, is that it could lead to Republicans claming victory.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell "will have his whole caucus vote for it and make it a political win for the Republicans," one well-connected Democratic health care strategist said. "They'll say, 'This was the Republican plan from the beginning. We're glad the Democrats joined us.' And take all the credit for passing reform."
Lo and behold, on Thursday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that the Republican Party do just that, arguing that it would be "clever" for the GOP to pass non-controversial reform measures with "huge bipartisan majorities."
Alternately, some Democrats might welcome such a move. "Hell yeah," a Democratic congressional aide said. "We would have created a bi-partisan bill. We would have shown leadership. And we'd get credit for that."
Indeed, it's hard to see Republican lawmaker -- let alone a majority of the caucus -- moving away from their strategy of full-throated opposition.
"The situation as I see it is that Republicans have decided that this bill will win them elections -- if we don't pass it, it especially does," said one leadership aide. "Aiding us in a victory lap is not the game they want to play."
Moreover, the presumption among party insiders -- at least for now-- is that Democratic leadership will ultimately settle on passing the Senate package (with promises of additional change.)
"I think if people are talking about the piecemeal approach it's without really thinking about it in detail," emailed one Hill aide. "I mean, everything I've heard is it's just not doable. I predict that the dynamic will change in the next couple weeks. I think House leadership is going to start pushing -- through polls, strategists, etc -- that abandoning reform now is suicide. That we can't allow '94 to repeat and you'll see the [progressives] get on board for a strategy that passes the senate bill while saving face in other ways."