Thursday, January 21, 2010

Calming Thought About Time

Ezra Klein and Josh Marshall have been expressing my feelings of horror for quite a few days now. But let me look at things from the other side.

The original plan was to pass health care reform in conference committee. Then people downgraded it to the ping-pong thing where the House and Senate meet in the middle, or somewhat on the Senate side of the middle. In any event, this would've taken some time. Maybe another month or so. But then an unexpected event in MA dashed those plans and people were left very confused about what to do next.

Yes, there's a pretty serious failure of leadership here in the lack of a contingency plan. But that's not the point. The point is that hashing this stuff out would've taken maybe another month, under ordinary conditions. And things aren't going to go faster than that now in the wake of a big shock. Coalitions need to reorient themselves and new compromises need to be made. Nobody's sure how to do that, but the underlying problem is thoroughly solvable, and it's generally in the players' interests to solve it. Really, things only have to assemble themselves in 'solution' form for a brief moment over the next couple months for Obama to have a bill on his desk.

Now if things never assemble themselves in that form, it's a disaster. And the current responses we've heard from people in the House and Senate aren't encouraging. But now, after the disruption of the original plan, is really not the moment in which you'd expect everything to come together. It would've been plenty of time before a bill hit Obama's desk, and we still have plenty of time for it to do so.

[Update]: ikl's comments got me thinking a bit more, and one of the big problems with not having any sort of plan in the immediate present is that you end up with 'Health Care Reform Is Dead' prophecies and explanations which could be self-fulfilling. Of course, 'Health care reform is in trouble' isn't a problem -- we've had that a thousand times over the past year, and we always came back. So it's important to have some semblance of a plan at every moment just so things stay at the level of grim prognoses, but not obituaries.

Really I don't think we need much at this moment. "Let's introduce banking reform right now, and then we'll get back to it in mid-February" is an acceptable answer. But there needs to be some skeleton of a plan, so that it can't be written off as dead.
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