It's the 53 - Not the GOP

August 25, 2009

Democratic members of Congress, party strategists, and even President Obama have tried their best to portray Republicans as obstructionists to health care reform, and want us to believe that if the effort fails, it's all because of the GOP.

That's nonsense. The failure to pass health care reform would be a yoke around the Democrats' neck, and the cause of losing the moment would be their inability to achieve unity among themselves.

Democrats have the perfect political hat trick. They control the White House, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House, with a strong majority in both houses.

But I'm reminded of something Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, told a reporter nine years ago: Democrats know nothing about party unity.

When he said that, Conyers was being interviewed for an election special for a now-defunct black cable network, and he said that if Democrats had a majority of the votes in the House, they had a unified group of only about 165.

That's because when you throw in the 53 Blue Dog Democrats -- strongly conservative members whom some party loyalists liken to Republicans in Democrat clothing -- then you have a different kind of dynamic than you do in the GOP, where the strong base of conservatives typically stays in line.

Then, of course, you have the far-left members, loud and noisy, and oftentimes unwilling to compromise their positions in order to move legislation forward.

When you put the far left and the far right of the Democratic Party in one room, you will see fireworks that rival a Democratic-Republican fight.

And that's exactly what we are seeing on health care reform.

All summer, the conversation has been dominated by the White House trying to placate conservative Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats on the various health care bills that the House and Senate are considering.

Both groups are adamantly opposed to growing the federal government, and with a rising deficit, the last thing they want is another $1 trillion program. (Although most didn't mind the $1 trillion we spent on the useless war in Iraq -- but I digress.)

Obama administration officials thought they had the liberal and progressive wing of the party in their pockets and set their sights on satisfying conservatives in both parties.

But over the weekend, Obama and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius totally botched the deal by giving the impression that the public option wasn't a major goal. That sent the progressives/liberals nuts, and now the White House is trying to put the genie back into the bottle.

The progressive/liberals are angry because they believe they have given up way too much in this health care bill, with nothing to show for it in terms of Republican and Blue Dog Democrat support.

Yet what no one wants to mention is that many of them are still seething over having to accept massive cuts in the stimulus bill by Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in order for that to pass. Obama implored them to support the changed bill for the good of the country, and they bit their lip and sucked it up.

That day is over.

In many ways, the Democratic Party is too democratic. It includes so many special interests that it's hard to achieve major consensus without having to satisfy everyone. Republicans? They have a simpler base and have always found it easy to drive an agenda.

President Obama is desperate to toe the line on achieving bipartisanship with this health bill. He wants as many Republican votes as he can get, but he's not making considerable headway in that area. Maybe he has a shot at upwards of 10 votes in the Senate, but you can forget the House.

Now, because of the public option mess, he is going to have to shore up his progressive/liberal base. But those people are now emboldened and unwilling to cede more ground.

So the time the president wanted to spend on wooing conservatives will have to be spent on keeping his angry progressive/liberal wing intact.

Democrats have floated the idea of going it alone and passing health care reform. Some have said the president will pay a big price among independent voters if he does that. That he will, but it really won't be his fault. 

If health care was his first priority to getting elected, that should remain the case. Damn the 2010 midterm elections, and damn the 2012 presidential elections. But as it stands now, it possibly won't pass without a lot of bloodshed (or tears) and it will be because of the 53, not the GOP. 

Again, I say: Thank God for Blue Dogs!

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