O Come O Come, Emanuel

Will Democrats regret Rahm’s wager on health care?

by William McGurn
The Wall Street Journal
December 21, 2009

‘Twill be the night before Christmas when the Senate delivers the top item on White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s wish list: a health-care bill. But like the beautifully wrapped gift that looks so wonderful under the tree, this health-care legislation might start to look more like the ghastly sweater from your Aunt Tilly once it comes out of the box.

Give Majority Leader Harry Reid his due. Notwithstanding the grumblings about the way he did it, getting the 60 senators he needed to avoid a Republican filibuster was an achievement. Assuming the House and Senate work out their differences, Mr. Reid’s Christmas gift tees up the president for a triumphant State of the Union come January.

Yesterday President Barack Obama gave us a preview when he took a little victory lap amid a jab at critics who are “continually carping” about big spending. The health-care vote, he said, is “a big victory for the American people.”

Whether it’s a “big victory” for the Democratic Party depends on whether you buy Mr. Emanuel’s wager about 1994. The Emanuel Wager goes like this: It was the Democrats’ failure in 1994 to pass a health-care bill that ushered in the Gingrich takeover of Congress. In his own meetings with Democrats, former President Bill Clinton has pressed the same line.

This was the message Mr. Emanuel delivered personally to Mr. Reid, when he urged him to cut a deal with holdout Joe Lieberman. This was the message the president echoed two days later in the West Wing, when he told Democrats that no piece of legislation would be perfect. And this appears to be the message embraced by Mr. Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, given their willingness to accept any amendment to get some health-care bill passed…

…If Mr. Emanuel is right, once health-care legislation is passed and Mr. Obama spins it as a huge victory, the American people will forget their objections and the Democrats will get credit for passing historic reform. If so, that will be some achievement. Because it means building on a health-care package supported by fewer than 38% of Americans (the RealClearPolitics poll average)…

…In the last few months, the American people have been watching. And they have learned a great deal about filibusters, manager’s amendments, reconciliation, special Medicaid sweeteners for special states, etc.

So they are not likely to be fooled by a senator who tries to have it both ways: by voting to keep this bill alive when his or her vote could have stopped it (Monday morning’s cloture vote), and then voting against it (the coming Christmas Eve vote) when passage was assured. Remember how well it worked for John Kerry in the 2004 campaign when his words explaining his votes on a supplemental to fund our troops were thrown back at him. Explained the then-presidential candidate: “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”…

The complete article is at WSJ.

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