There are moments when the health care debate recalls George W. Bush's drive to reform Social Security. Granted, Obama's traveled a lot farther than Bush ever did: health care reform has passed both chambers of Congress, and is on the precipice of becoming law thanks to the Senate procedure known as reconciliation. Nevertheless, throughout 2005 George W. Bush traveled hither and yon trying to convince the American public that the only way to save Social Security was some vague combination of progressive indexing and personal accounts. The public didn't buy it, no matter how many times Bush stumped. The same goes for Obama. Yesterday he gave his thirty-fifth speech on health care reform. Next week he'll go on the road to deliver numbers 36 and 37. The public still doesn't like it.
The hopes of liberal reformers rest on Nancy Pelosi's ability to convince 216 Democrats to vote for the Senate health care bill. Pelosi has to contend with the possible defection of up to 12 allies of pro-life Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, who says the Senate bill's abortion language is unacceptable. And she also has to deal with the 52 conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Forty-nine of the Blue Dogs hail from districts McCain won in 2008. Many are vulnerable in the fall election.
When the House voted for health care in November 2009, a bare majority of Blue Dogs sided with Pelosi and voted for the bill. What are the chances of that happening again? In November, the Yes votes included Michael Arcuri of New York and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana. More recently, Arcuri has said he won't vote for the Senate bill, and Ellsworth is running for the U.S. Senate, thus giving him every incentive to switch to No.
In the past, the Blue Dogs bark and then roll over for the liberal Democratic leadership. No question, a bunch of them will perform the same routine this time around. But I'm not sure it will be enough to put Pelosi over the top. The risk in November is just too great.