On life support — but breathing

ON LIFE SUPPORT — BUT BREATHING…. On Tuesday night, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of the more influential progressives on the Hill, issued a surprisingly dour press statement, sounding defeatist and resigned to failure on health care reform. Frank’s comments were Exhibit A that a narrow majority of Massachusetts’s voters may have in fact killed the year-long effort to deal with the nation’s dysfunctional health care system.

Yesterday, Frank told Brian Beutler that he was “upset” when he wrote the statement and now realizes he “overstated the pessimism.” Most notably, Frank also signaled a willingness to support the Senate bill, with assurances that changes would be made through reconciliation.

“I’m easy. I’m strongly inclined to vote for the thing, even though I don’t like the health care tax thing,” Frank told me. “But you know, I was ready to vote for the bill when I had people on the left yelling at me not to vote for it. So you know I’ll vote for any of it… to try and move the process along.”

Frank was quick to qualify his remarks, though, noting that a vote from him would require promises from leadership and the White House that at least one controversial element of the legislation would be fixed in subsequent legislation. “I take it back…I would want assurances that we were going to amend the health care tax piece,” Frank said.

This continues to be the most obvious resolution, though it’s not even close to clear whether there are 218 votes in the House to get this done. Blue Dogs, the most conservative Dems, are, not surprisingly, opposed. So, too, are the most liberal Dems.

That said, if Frank is signaling his support for the pass-then-reconciliation strategy, some of the House Democratic leadership believe the idea has merit, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad is open to the idea, and unions are on board with the underlying approach, then it’s at least a possibility.

As for the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the NYT reported, “Inside the White House, top aides to the president said Mr. Obama had made no decision on how to proceed, and insisted that his preference was still to win passage of a far-reaching health care measure, like the House and Senate bills, which would extend coverage to more than 30 million people by 2019.”

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to express absolutely no interest in playing a constructive, problem-solving role. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ostensibly one of the “moderates” in the GOP caucus, urged the White House yesterday to completely scrap the year’s worth of work and “start from scratch.”

That’s obviously not an option.