Yesterday, I argued that reporting can't tell us the difference between neglect and a deliberate quiet period on health care reform. Jonathan Chait disagrees -- and he's correct. I overstated the case.
It's true that from far enough on the outside, those two things look pretty much the same. But close up, there should be differences, and good reporting might be able to get at that. There is, I think, a difference between people claiming "oh, we're working on it" and evidence that they are actually working on it.
I do think -- and here I guess I do disagree with Chait -- that Democrats might still mouth their interest in passing a bill even if they had actually given up. He thinks that stringing along the rank-and-file makes no sense, because eventually they're going to notice! But the White House might prefer to announce failure on their own schedule, rather than in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate race; they could even decide to claim to still be moving ahead while actually developing a strategy for retreat. Or they might be uncertain whether to proceed or not, which probably means the bill dies, but they aren't ready to rule it out just yet. However, if that was the reality, then there would be nothing further (in terms of progress in negotiations) for reporters to discover.
So, let me clarify. Public statements that the White House or that the Congressional leadership is still committed to health care probably don't help us figure out what's going on: we could easily get those statements either way. I'll stick by that part of it. But evidence of actual negotiations or actual rounding up votes? Yup, that should count as a sign that health care reform is still alive. The more, and the more concrete, the better. So, reporters -- keep up the good work! We need you!