Where the fight for reform stands

WHERE THE FIGHT FOR REFORM STANDS…. Everyone expected this to be a very busy week for the health care reform campaign(s), and it has been. Whether we’re any closer to actual progress is far less clear.

Let’s start with the Senate, where a center-right Gang of Six were supposed to finish their negotiations and produce a “bipartisan” bill before the recess. Now, negotiators say, that’s not going to happen — and even if it did, the resulting legislation may be so awful, other Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee may not be able to stomach it anyway.

At the same time, the NYT reports today that the Republican leadership has told its members — including those in Finance Committee negotiations — that delaying the process as long as possible is a necessity. Why? Because GOP leaders have apparently decided that they shouldn’t “let Democrats head to their home states for the August recess boasting of any progress.” Indeed, those same leaders have warned Chuck Grassley that if he helps Dems pass a reform bill, they may punish him by blocking him from becoming the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee next year.

Democrats, in other words, are trying to strike a reform compromise with lawmakers who want neither reform nor compromise. That is, for lack of a better word, insane.

As for the House, the compromise that brought some Blue Dogs on board with reform will apparently help get a bill out of Waxman’s House Energy and Commerce Committee, but it’s outraged dozens of House liberals, who insist that they can no longer support the legislation now that conservative Democrats have weakened it. At last count, 57 House Progressives say they are prepared to vote against the bill on the floor.

It creates a very difficult dynamic — keep this week’s changes, lose liberal votes, and watch health care reform die just inches from the finish line. Or, get rid of this week’s changes, lose the Blue Dogs, and watch health care reform die just inches from the finish line.

Jonathan Cohn says just about all of the relevant players fighting for reform seem, at this point, “more than a little bit concerned.”

…Democrats still haven’t agreed among themselves on the most challenging issue in reform: how to pay for it. There’s no shortage of viable ideas on that front. Senator John Kerry’s proposal to tax health benefits by taxing insurers, rather than the insured, offers some hope for a broadly acceptable compromise. But the Democrats aren’t there yet.

Will they get there soon? And get there in time? It’s the question not just about financing, but about reform as a whole.

Stay tuned.