I don't think it bodes well for health-care reform that a 90-minute Q&A between the president and the Senate Democrats passed this morning without a single query on the subject. The closest the Senate Dems got was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s query about insuring 9/11 emergency rescue workers—a far cry from health-insurance reform for the entire country.
Obama made a few quick remarks about health-care reform that, both in substance and scope, were similar to what he said during the State of the Union: I want you guys to pass this; we aren’t giving up. But he doesn’t explain how the Senate can do this. And what's more, the Senate Democrats didn't push for this guidance.
What can we glean from such silence on health-care reform?
The Senate Democrats seem to be in a place pretty similar to where their House colleagues were in the immediate Massachusetts aftermath. A flashback: a few weeks ago Pelosi and the House Democrats were really faltering about where health-care reform went next after Scott Brown won his Massachusetts Senate race and the Senate no longer had a filibuster-proof majority. House Dems said they would not pass the Senate bill, and Pelosi was getting seriously slammed for not having enough votes to get the Senate bill out of the House. For a while she sat back and took it. "I don't think it's possible to pass the Senate bill in the House," Pelosi told reporters. "I don't see the votes for it at this time."
But then, as doubt began to build, Pelosi made a marked changed in her posture on health care. She quit the whole 'I'm not sure I have the votes' narrative for a 'watch me make this happen' stance. Rhetorically and policy-wise, Pelosi took the reins. In the House she is giving her body a popular anti-trust provision, which would end an exemption insurance companies have regularly received, to vote on. And rhetorically, she started coming out swinging. You've got to love this statement she made, right after the State of the Union, on her plan to pass health-care reform:
We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn't work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health-care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.
Now it's Reid who, according to Politico, does not have the votes to pass the bill via reconciliation. And, much like post-Brown Pelosi, he's making bland statements that don't instill much confidence. Like this one, regarding plans to pass health care: "We had a discussion, and we have a number of options," he told Politico. "We don’t have anything finalized yet.” A far cry from pole vaults and parachutes.
Granted, Pelosi is still a long way off from passing health-care reform, and strong rhetoric may not translate into law. But if there's anything Democrats need right now, confidence that they can actually govern has got to be at the top of the list. Pelosi has shown that it's possible to move past the hand-wringing over votes, get a caucus together, and take a much more definitive stance that health-care reform will get passed. Can Reid and the Senate Democrats follow in the same path? They did not today—but the option in the future is still open.