Why Democrats Cannot Give up on Health Reform Now

Failure to pass a law is an invitation to political slaughter.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

If the Democrats on Capital Hill could caucus, and agree on a quick, magical, cost-free path to add about 5 million new jobs in the next six months, they would do so.

But they can't. The effects of the recession need to work themselves out. Aside from the capture of Osama bin Laden, there is no quick crowd-pleaser out there for President Obama and his troops in Congress.

Instead, they must pass their healthcare bill. Having gotten it this far, to surrender would be an invitation for political slaughter.

As usual, it's the Speaker of the House who recognizes this reality. Speakers know their members, and members know their constituencies.

"We can't say to them at the end of the day: `Well, we had an idea. We had a vision. We had a majority, but the process did not allow us to make a change for your lives,'" said Nancy Pelosi.

No, Democrats, you cannot.

"We have to represent the aspirations of Americans as they sit around their kitchen tables concerned about their jobs, the education of their children…and how they are going to pay their medical bills," said Pelosi, after yesterday's healthcare summit was over. "Those people who are…struck with illness or pre-existing conditions and the rest want us to act. They want results."

So the Democrats have two choices. They can push through the best bill possible, and go home and defend it with passion and conviction and, perhaps, take some losses in November. It is the sad reality of American politics that fear generally triumphs over hope at the ballot box, and the Republicans have done a great job raising fears. But Obama, at least, has flushed the Republicans from hiding. We now have two models from which to choose--and the Republican alternative looks sorrier every day.

Or, the Democrats can whimper and flail. They can lose their nerve and go home to face 1) spirited Republicans who will despise them no matter what they do, 2) Independents disgusted with their fecklessness, and 3) a whole bunch of disappointed Democrats who have better things to do than vote on Election Day.

It's the last group that Democratic office-holders need to start worrying about. They've voted for this bill. They own it. There is no way the Republicans will let voters forget that. Their best bet now is to pass it with a happy shout, and go into the midterm election with that indispensable element of victory: a proud and invigorated Democratic base.

"We need to have the courage," said Pelosi, "to get this job done." And the skill to tell us why. And then maybe the rest of us will reward that bravery in November.

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