The House of Representatives passed the Senate's comprehensive healthcare reform bill this evening, meaning that the only obstacle standing before President Obama's top legislative priority is how long it takes to pull together a signing ceremony. Depending upon which side of the mind-numbing House debate you listened to, this bill either spells the end of liberty, the economy, and America generally, or is the swellest piece of legislation this side of the New Deal. The Daily Beast has a helpful summary of what is actually in the bill, which you can read here, so you can decide for yourself.
What is beyond dispute is that for the second time in his term, Barack Obama has written himself into the presidential history books: The first black president is also the first chief executive to achieve large scale healthcare reform. Not bad for 14 months work.
Obama has been on the receiving end of no shortage of frustration and criticism throughout the long journey to healthcare reform: He wasn't engaged enough; he didn't reach out to Republicans; he spent too much time reaching out to Republicans; he didn't push hard enough for a public option; he spent too much time with drug companies; he didn't learn the lessons of the Clinton presidency; he was too guided by the blunders of the Clinton health reform effort.
But the bottom line is the bottom line. And some time this week, Barack Obama will put his signature on it.
Some of these criticisms had merit. Watching the debate unfold has at times had the nerve-wracking qualities of high stakes sports: Watching a football team driving for a score in the post season, screaming with frustration when the wrong play is called, throwing one's arms up in victory with each big gain. Those drives rarely involve a string of successful plays, each moving the ball forward, first down after first down after first down. Rather there's an incomplete pass, perhaps a sack, a small gain and then on fourth down the team on offense finally gets the first down. And it all starts over.
Politics--and political analysis--is too often like watching such a football game, except that instead of plays happening every few seconds and the game ending in a few hours, plays happen every few days, with endless commentary coming in between. They've gone two consecutive plays without getting a first down. In fact they lost a yard. Is it time to can the coach? We should change the quarterback. No the offensive coordinator is the problem. But in sports the bottom line is whether the team scores, not how pretty the drive was. And in politics the bottom line is the law that's enacted, not how smooth the process was getting it.
Obama and the Democrats scored tonight, in historic fashion. His leadership skills and style have been vindicated, at least for the time being. But the game's not over; a new drive starts tomorrow.