CONTRA CLYBURN, WAXMAN EXPRESSES OPTIMISM…. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) struck a very discouraging note this week when he said he doesn’t expect Congress to tackle healthcare this year. “I would much rather see it done that way, incrementally, than to go out and just bite something you can’t chew,” Clyburn said on C-SPAN. “We’ve been down that road. I still remember 1994.”

And while Clyburn is obviously an influential Democratic leader, Jonathan Cohn notes that another high-profile Democrat stepped up today with a very different message.

Barack Obama has said he wants to pursue major health care reform this year. Two key committee chairmen in the Senate, Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy, have said they want to pursue health care this year. But what about the House? […]

A few minutes ago, Congressman Henry Waxman made his feelings known — and did so with no ambiguity. Speaking at the annual Health Action conference, sponsored by the health care advocacy group FamiliesUSA, Waxman announced, “This is our time…. We need to get this job accomplished this year and get a bill to the president.”

Waxman is not in the House leadership, of course. But he is very close with Speaker Pelosi and, no less important, he is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee — the committee that will likely take the lead on writing and then pushing health reform legislation.

Cohn adds that Waxman knows about as much as anyone about how to get bills through Congress, and he “doesn’t tend to pick fights he can’t win.”

At this point, I can only hope Democrats don’t let fear and the scars of the 103rd Congress get in the way of progress in 2008. As Digby explained the other day, this isn’t 1994: “The Republicans are on the decline not the ascent. Democrats were just given the task of saving the country. The health care crisis, which was already awful, is getting worse with every lay-off and every job lost — and the state governments are going broke and can’t take up the slack. How many uninsured to we have to have before they realize that this crisis can’t just be kicked down the road until they get over their trauma of 1994?”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.