Don’t delay

DON’T DELAY…. When something important is due, and it’s not coming together there are different kinds of delays. Some are worthwhile, some aren’t.

If, for example, I’m writing an article and get stuck, maybe I’ll step away for an hour, clear my head, and come back to it with a fresh perspective. I won’t miss my deadline, but the break may be constructive. This is an example of a brief, helpful delay.

When it comes to health care reform, many Democratic policymakers are suggesting that putting the issue on the backburner for a little while is the same thing — they’re not quitting, but they’re tackling a few other things right now. They’ll get back to health care, they assure us, with a clear head and fresh perspective.

But this approach is fraught with problems serious enough to make health care reform impossible. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, for example, is talking about a delay that’s anything but brief and helpful. Dems, he said, can get back to healthcare, after tackling a jobs bill, deficit reduction, and Wall Street reform first.

Ezra Klein notes that these other issues will take months. “The longer this takes, the less likely it is to happen,” he said. “And Emanuel just said that the administration’s preference is to let it take longer. If I were a doctor, I’d downgrade health care’s prognosis considerably atop this evidence.” Jon Chait agrees.

Jonathan Cohn has a good piece about the larger context, and suggests that Emanuel might be floating a trial balloon — which should get shot down.

Emanuel’s qualms about strategic over-reach on health care are among Washington’s worst kept secrets. It’s always possible he was freelancing. But it’s hard to imagine that, in a sit-down interview like this, Emanuel would toss out an idea like this without at least implicit approval from above.

Of course, the official White House line is that they’re not easing up at all. Obama’s public rhetoric backs that up and, privately, several officials say the same thing. The word from Capitol Hill is that leadership is making progress — a lot of progress — on crafting a new compromise between the two chambers.

But getting nervous Democrats in both houses to sign off on that compromise will be tough. A muddled message from the White House, whatever its backstory or intent, only makes that harder.

By the way, the point of trial balloons is to see whether they get shot down. So it might behoove liberals who want health care reform to make clear that lengthy delay is not acceptable. For a few days earlier this week, members of Congress were reportedly getting calls from constituents, urging them to “pass the bill.” More of those calls might be helpful.

Maybe it’s time for another list. There are at least five good reasons to make every effort to wrap up health care over the next few weeks.

1. The debate has run its course, and no one, anywhere, seriously wants to have this debate continue all over again in the spring and summer. Months of negotiations and machinations will only breed additional frustrations.

2. The basic facts won’t change. Policymakers have been at this for a year, and know what they have to do. Negotiations went reasonably well this week, but there’s no need for months of talks.

3. Nervous lawmakers get even more overcome by anxiety when a difficult election season gets closer. Some members who are prepared to vote for health care reform in February may feel differently in June.

4. The reconciliation instructions in last year’s budget are due to expire with passage of the next budget.

5. Giving opponents of reform more time to undermine public support and trash necessary legislation hasn’t worked up until now; it’s unlikely to be effective while policymakers push the process into the spring (or later). What’s more, given the insurance industry’s money, those trying to kill reform have limitless resources, while supporters have already spent their budgets.

Time is of the essence. Pass the damn bill.