Updates in the battle over health care reform are coming fast and furious; indicating just how much Democrats in Congress and the Obama Administration want to be able to take advantage of perceived momentum in order to push through a health care reform package before the political system eventually seizes up to halt any reform effort.
1. In the House, Charlie Rangel, the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is proposing more taxes in order to fund health care reform. Yeah, that Charlie Rangel. Of course, proposing a tax increase when the economy is weak, and when it may remain weak for some years to come is pure folly, but what can one expect? The good news is that the prospects for such a tax increase appear to be low:
An aide to the House speaker, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, said she and other leaders were supportive of the idea, which they concluded would be their main way to pay for Mr. Obama’s top policy priority: expanding health insurance coverage to virtually all Americans and curtailing the steep rise in the cost of medical care while improving patient outcomes.
But it remains unclear whether the Senate will go along. Most Republicans there, or perhaps all, oppose the idea, along with some centrist Democrats.
Even in the more liberal House, where Democrats have a majority of 255 to 178, the tax proposal will most likely cost a substantial number of Democratic votes. The Blue Dog Coalition, made up of 52 fiscally conservative Democrats, expressed apprehension this week about the unfolding health care legislation, and that was before Mr. Rangel’s announcement Friday.
In recent days, efforts to advance the legislation in both houses of Congress have slowed. That development calls into question whether Democrats will be able to meet their goal of passing the bills before the August recess, reconciling differences between the two versions upon their return and then getting a final measure to Mr. Obama’s desk by October.
Even if such a bill gets through the House, expect it to be killed in the Senate, or in conference. There is just no way that Harry Reid is going to be able to get a tax increase through absent reconciliation, a process which carries its own risks.
2. 20 New and Blue Dog Democrats have signed a letter supporting a public option. It looks as though the Blue Dogs are fighting with one another. Again, Nancy Pelosi can afford to lose some Blue Dog votes in the House, but lose too many, and it will serve as a signal for conservative Democrats in the Senate to scupper the bill, or to work to take elements more liberal Democrats advocate out of a final bill that is negotiated in the conference committee.