Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Summit Time

I think Ezra Klein's Viewer's Guide to the health care reform summit is well worth reading, especially his final point (sorry, you'll have to go look), but I think I can do it in fewer than five points.

Remember who the audience is here: nervous Democratic Members of the House, who probably already believe that passage of the bill is better for them than failure, but don't want to be the ones who actually have cast the vote for it.  What do they want?  I wish I knew, but we haven't had very much good reporting...I don't think I've seen a single extensive interview with any of the fifty or so swing Members.  I'm not blaming the reporters (well, not too much), because odds are that most of those fifty want the bill to pass without their vote, but realize that they might have to vote for it after all, and how exactly are you supposed to explain that in an interview? 

OK, so, what do these Democrats in the House want?  Well, my guess is that someone at the White House thinks they want a summit. 

Too glib?  OK, three realistic possibilities, and one unrealistic possibility, any or all of which might be what they really want..  They might have wanted the president to take an (even more) personal stake in the specific bill that they're going to have to vote on.  They got that.  They might have wanted yet another show of an attempt at bipartisanship; they got some of that so far, and they'll probably get a bit more tomorrow.  On that topic, they would love to have the Republicans reject bipartisanship as explicitly as possible (thus leaving them free, they might believe, of the charge that Democrats are the partisan ones).  Republicans are unlikely to offer that, but you never know -- Republicans gave Democratic Senators that gift when Enzi and Grassley publicly undermined the Group of Six in August.  They may want assurances that the Senate won't undercut them again this time.  I've argued for a month now that the House is making a mistake here; unlike the BTU tax in 1993 and climate/energy in 2009 and a host of other things, the reconciliation bill will be an easy vote for Senators (especially if the House goes first by passing the Senate bill, but even if they don't).  And yet, mistake or not, that may be one of the things that swing voters -- marginal Democratic Members of the House -- are looking for.

What they shouldn't hope for is significant changes in public opinion.  Really, any changes in public opinion.  For people who read things like this, the health care summit is a really big deal...but hardly anyone is going to watch, and most Americans probably have no idea that it's even going on.  Those who do watch, the most attentive voters, are also in almost all cases the most partisan voters, and the least likely to change their minds about anything.  If Members of Congress are looking for changes in the polls, they're almost certainly going to be disappointed.

OK, I'm not sure how many points that was, but really there's only one core point: the audience here that matters is about fifty Democratic Members of the House.  Maybe fewer. 


  1. I fail to see how any aspect of this could be germane to the position of any wavering Congressman except to the extent it influences public opinion -- about the bill, about the legitimacy of reconciliation, about whatever matters to them. Otherwise we're saying they need this for their own health (ie peace of mind, clarification on issues, whatever)? Uh, not likely.

  2. That'snot to say anyone thinks this could flip opinion on the bill itself. But they might legitimately think it could in some cases in terms of the impact of his episode on actual voting behavior in November make people more accepting of having it pass despite their objections. I have no idea if that's realistic at all.

  3. A major reason you haven't seen reporting on the audience that actually matters is the very reason they matter: they don't want to take a position on this. The 50 swing votes believe that the vote on this could be really bad for them. Personally, I wish more of them would realize that they've already swallowed that pill in passing it the first time, and now they should actually try to get some bill to get their base motivated. But, these 50 have mostly run for Congress by saying "I'll seek a middle option on everything" and the problem is that there really isn't a middle option this time.


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