Building a consensus, driving a wedge

BUILDING A CONSENSUS, DRIVING A WEDGE…. Republican support for health care reform expanded a little more yesterday afternoon, when former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) implicitly endorsed Democratic efforts.

“Right now in this country we have the best opportunity we’ve had in recent history to begin to create real health care reform that will expand coverage for those who don’t have it and lower costs for those who do,” the conservative Nebraskan said. He added that policymakers should “put aside their narrow partisan differences” on health care reform, and that “access to affordable quality health care for all Americans should be our nation’s goal.”

That Hagel issued his statement through the White House made it clear that the former Republican senator is standing with the president on the issue. He joins a growing list of non-Democrats backing reform.

And in case there were any doubts about the significance of these endorsements, Republican support for reform was not only the basis for the president’s weekly address yesterday, it’s also the basis for a new DNC commercial. It highlights GOP support from the likes of Bob Dole and Bill Frist, while contrasting them with congressional Republicans who are “siding with the insurance companies and just saying ‘no’ to health insurance reform.”

The spot is scheduled to begin airing tomorrow in D.C. and on national cable.

The word I think we’re likely to hear a whole lot of over the next few weeks is “consensus.” The president referenced it twice yesterday: “In recent months, we’ve heard every side of every argument from both sides of the aisle. And rightly so — health insurance reform is a complex and critical issue that deserves a vigorous national debate, and we’ve had one. The approach that is emerging includes the best ideas from Republicans and Democrats, and people across the political spectrum. In fact, what’s remarkable is not that we’ve had a spirited debate about health insurance reform, but the unprecedented consensus that has come together behind it.”

Democrats have a strong incentive to keep pushing this. With every Republican on the Hill likely to oppose reform, Dems are now in a position to say, “The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, and a variety of Republican senators, governors, and Bush administration officials are all on board with reform.”

In this case, it’s GOP lawmakers who are fighting against a “consensus” effort Americans have been waiting decades for.