Since the impression persists that Democratic “moderates” are the big problem in the House with passage of health reform legislation, it’s worth noting that a prominent “moderate” (or as he would call himself, a “pragmatic progressive”) has issued a strong call for the party to pull together and get this bill done. Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute (with which, as it happens, I have also been affiliated since 1995) has an op-ed up at Politico suggesting that it’s no time to point fingers about which Democrats have made enactment of health reform possible, and certainly no time for any Democrats to beg a pass or take a walk. If reform fails, says Marshall:
Labor unions, Blue Dogs, single-payer stalwarts, favor-extorting moderates, Latinos, anti-abortion Roman Catholics — it’s no use singling out one culprit, because all the party’s tribes will have contributed to the debacle.
By holding firm for comprehensive reform, President Barack Obama has put his party, especially House Democrats, on the spot. He’s asking doubters to put their party’s collective interest above their personal interests and views….
Marshall has a specific message for House Democrats running in hostile political territory:
While party unity isn’t the highest political value, being a member of a party does carry some obligation to its fundamental principles. Tactically, it makes sense for party leaders to give Democrats in tough districts a pass on tough votes — as long as there are votes to spare.
That’s not the case on health care reform. Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs every vote she can get.
In the end, all the political calculations being made about the consequences of this or that House Member voting for health reform fade before the big political reality of the consequences to all Democrats if they flinch before the urgent task just ahead:
Obama was elected on a promise to tackle the nation’s biggest challenges — with health reform as Exhibit A. Independent voters have drifted away from his winning 2008 coalition during the past year, in part because they are losing confidence in the Democrats’ ability to govern.
The party may thus have more to fear from wasting a year to produce nothing than from passing a controversial bill. Failure won’t just make Democrats look bad; it will also vindicate the Republicans’ hyperpartisan campaign to torpedo comprehensive reform.
Sometimes, parties gain even when they lose — especially when they stand on principle. The odds facing Obama and Pelosi and company are daunting.
But the task is doable — as long as enough Democrats recognize that their careers won’t amount to much if their party can’t deliver on its core commitments.
That’s what’s at stake in the House vote on health care reform.