By now it’s a truism that the state of the economy, coupled with the enthusiasm gap that afflicts Democrats, is likely to allow Republicans to make huge gains in the midterm elections (even though Americans think the Republican Party really, really stinks).
Short of divine intervention, the economy isn’t going to get turned around in four weeks. So closing the enthusiasm gap is the only realistic hope Democrats have of salvaging the midterm elections.
It’s my personal belief that a major cause for the enthusiasm gap — if not the major cause — was the way health care reform was thoroughly mishandled, for months and months, resulting in a bill that was a pale shadow of what it might have been.
That includes how a single-payer system was taken off the table right at the outset, preemptively, as it were. It includes the extended and perfectly pointless game of political footsie Max Baucus was allowed to play with Chuck Grassley and assorted Senate Republicans for months and months (and months), when we continued to negotiate with them long after many of them had actually made public statements to the effect that they were not negotiating in good faith, that they were only trying to drag out the process and dilute the end product, and that they would vote against the final product they ended up negotiating. This charade not only dragged on for months, but the provisions of the bill did indeed keep getting diluted every step of the way. And the long-drawn-out negotiations provided the Republicans world enough and time to mount their determined campaign of deliberate lies to subvert popular support for health care reform.
And we not only ended up with weak and watery dishwater, but we were told over and over again that we should loyally celebrate it as chicken soup for the soul. Because it was such a milestone accomplishment, because so many previous presidents had tried and failed, or wanted to try but not even taken up the task.
And I think that’s the context in which Tom Daschle‘s quickly retracted admission yesterday is going to play out.
This was the admission:
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD)’s new book Getting It Done: How Obama and Congress Finally Broke the Stalemate To Make Way for Health Care Reform comes out next week, but this morning he spoke to me about some of the concessions the administration made to pass reform and the shortcomings in the Affordable Care Act.
In his book, Daschle reveals that after the Senate Finance Committee and the White House convinced hospitals to to accept $155 billion in payment reductions over ten years on July 8, the hospitals and Democrats operated under two “working assumptions.” “One was that the Senate would aim for health coverage of at least 94 percent of Americans,” Daschle writes. “The other was that it would contain no public health plan,” which would have reimbursed hospitals at a lower rate than private insurers.
I asked Daschle if the White House had taken the option off the table in July 2009 and if all future efforts to resuscitate the provision were destined to fail:
DASCHLE: I don’t think it was taken off the table completely. It was taken off the table as a result of the understanding that people had with the hospital association, with the insurance (AHIP), and others. I mean I think that part of the whole effort was based on a premise. That premise was, you had to have the stakeholders in the room and at the table. Lessons learned in past efforts is that without the stakeholders’ active support rather than active opposition, it’s almost impossible to get this job done. They wanted to keep those stakeholders in the room and this was the price some thought they had to pay. Now, it’s debatable about whether all of these assertions and promises are accurate, but that was the calculation. I think there is probably a good deal of truth to it. You look at past efforts and the doctors and the hospitals, and the insurance companies all opposed health care reform. This time, in various degrees of enthusiasm, they supported it. And if I had to point out some of the key differences between then and now, it would be the most important examples of the difference.
Despite being “taken off the table” as a result of the “understanding,” the White House continued to publicly deny claims that it was backing away from the provision even as it tried to focus on other aspects of the bill. “Nothing has changed,” said Linda Douglass, then communications director for the White House Office of Health Reform in August of 2009 and many times thereafter. “The president has always said that what is essential is that health insurance reform must lower costs, ensure that there are affordable options for all Americans and it must increase choice and competition in the health insurance market. He believes the public option is the best way to achieve those goals.”
And this is the not-entirely-convincing retraction:
In describing some of the challenges to passage of the public option in the health reform bill, I did not mean to suggest in any way that the President was not committed to it. The President fought for the public option just as he did for affordable health care for all Americans. The public option was dropped only when it was no longer viable in Congress, not as a result of any deal cut by the White House. While I was disappointed that the public option was not included in the final legislation, the Affordable Care Act remains a tremendous achievement for the President and the nation.
This was a written statement. Daschle made no attempt to even try to explain how or why he could have said the exact opposite in the interview (at such great length) if the truth is that the public option was dropped only when it was no longer viable in Congress.
In any case, the book is supposed to be out next week. And, according to Igor Volsky‘s account, the book contains the same account of the public option’s demise as the interview. In fact, Volsky offers what purports to be a direct quote from the book.
If the book comes out next week and contains that quote — or if the book launch is inexplicably delayed — I think Tom Daschle may have single-handedly dashed whatever faint hope there might have been of closing the enthusiasm gap in the next four weeks.
Expect to see John Boehner wearing an unusually wide grin today.