By Robert Stacy McCain on 3.19.10 @ 6:09AM
Does anyone else remember what happened Jan. 19? Did anyone else watch the confetti fly and hear the band play in the ballroom of Boston’s Park Plaza Hotel two months ago? Or was the election of a Republican to the Senate seat held for more than four decades by Ted Kennedy merely a dream?
Scott Brown won by pledging to be the Senate’s “41st vote” against Obamacare, but Nancy Pelosi and her fellow House Democrats seem intent on pretending that Brown’s historic victory in Massachusetts never happened as they prepare to enact the president’s health care plan By Any Means Necessary.
Pelosi’s implacable determination in the face of such clear indicators that voters oppose this measure has left opponents straining for analogies to describe the arguably unconstitutional process. Lindsey Graham insulted the Japanese by comparing Democrats to kamikaze pilots “liquored up on sake” for a suicide mission. It might be more diplomatic to compare Democratic maneuvers to the Animal House scene of Delta Tau Chi brothers crammed inside their hurtling Deathmobile: “Ramming speed!”
It would all be comical were it not for the possibility that this slapstick legislative fraternity prank — perpetrated by the “Slaughter Solution” with Enron-like accounting gimmicks from the Congressional Budget Office — might yet become law.
How did we arrive at this juncture? Health care was endlessly debated by Obama and the other Democratic presidential candidates during the 2007-08 primary season, creating a partisan consensus that something must be enacted, with only relatively minor details separating the White House rivals. By the time the general election rolled around, however, the campaign focus had shifted to how to deal with the economic meltdown.
When Obama was sworn into office in January 2009, it was understood that fixing the economy was his biggest challenge. His massive $789 billion “stimulus” bill was pushed through Congress with relative ease. He was overwhelmingly popular — in early March last year, he had a 64-percent approval rating in the Real Clear Politics average — and it seemed nothing could stop him from enacting his agenda. In mid-May, Pelosi promised that health-care legislation would “be on the floor by the end of July, I am quite certain,” and the president declared, “We’ve got to get it done this year.… The stars are aligned.”
Despite such favorable astrological omens, when Obama returned two months later from an overseas trip that included a G-8 summit in Rome and visits to Russia and Ghana, Pelosi’s promise was nowhere near fulfillment and Democrats offered hints of panic at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. After a White House huddle, Sen. Max Baucus said, “The urgency barometer is going up,” and a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “There was a strong agreement by everyone in the room that we can get a bill done before the start of the August recess.”
Yet neither the House nor Senate had produced a bill when the August recess arrived and, during town-hall meetings in their districts, members of Congress were besieged by angry citizens whom the Democratic National Committee denounced as “angry mobs” of “right-wing extremists.” Right-wing or otherwise, the widespread anger stemmed from indignation over out-of-control deficit spending and the belief that the Democrats’ focus on passing the health-care bill had distracted them from the more urgent task of fixing the economy.
Unemployment kept rising and it seemed nothing — not even a massive Sept. 12 Tea Party march on Washington — could get Democrats to listen. Just days after Republicans scored victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections, Pelosi finally got the House to pass the health-care bill on Nov. 7. Reid held the Senate hostage to get approval for a much different version of the bill on Christmas Eve.
Even then, Scott Brown was driving his Dodge truck through the snow en route to the Jan. 19 Senate victory that most political observers at the time believed was the final death-blow to this unpopular legislation. Could there be a more decisive electoral verdict than for a Republican to be elected in liberal Massachusetts on a promise to stop the health-care bill?
Well, the voters be damned. Evidently swayed by White House arguments that “the fate of [Obama’s] presidency” requires passage of the bill, House Democrats seem determined to ignore the meaning of Brown’s election. With the “41st vote” to prevent the Senate from approving a bicameral compromise version of Obamacare, the House is now heading toward a weekend scenario in which they will vote on a completely different piece of legislation while pretending to pass the Senate bill — and then hope that the Senate will play along with the charade.
“They’re obviously not doing this for policy reasons,” one GOP operative who worked on the Brown campaign said last night. “This is political, but nobody can figure out the politics of it.”
Administration arm-twisters are reportedly telling House Democrats that the bill, once passed, will magically overcome the unpopularity that has hitherto plagued it, and that by November voters will forget the extraordinary machinations by which Pelosi accelerated her legislative Deathmobile up to “ramming speed.”
At this point, however, the arguments for passage resemble another Animal House scene, with Obama in the role of Otter when he announces, “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.” It remains to be seen whether House Democrats will supply Bluto’s famous answer: “We’re just the guys to do it.”
Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.