Signs of life?

SIGNS OF LIFE?…. Reporting on the state of the debate on health care reform, Roll Call ran a report this morning with a four-word lede: “It has a heartbeat.”

That seems to be about the only thing that nearly everyone involved in the debate can agree on — reform is in a precarious position, and may not survive, but it’s hanging on. Indeed, it’s not unreasonable to say key figures are trying to resuscitate it, though just how much effort they’re prepared to invest is far from clear.

The LA Times reported over the weekend that Democratic leaders “are meeting almost daily to plot legislative moves while gently persuading skittish rank-and-file lawmakers to back a sweeping bill.” The report also noted, “Many have concluded that the only hope for resuscitating the healthcare legislation is to push the issue off the front page and give lawmakers time to work out a new compromise and shift public perception of the bill.”

[I]n the coming weeks, Pelosi and Reid hope to rally House Democrats behind the healthcare bill passed by the Senate while simultaneously trying to persuade Senate Democrats to approve a series of changes to the legislation using budget procedures that bar filibusters.

At the same time, leading consumer groups, doctors and labor unions that have backed the healthcare legislative effort for more than a year are stepping up attempts to stiffen lawmakers’ resolve.

Also yesterday, Jonathan Cohn had a terrific lay-of-the-land piece, which offered at least a ray of hope.

According to these sources, Democrats have made progress — more progress, certainly, than might be evident from all the dire headlines of the past few days. There seems to be a plan in place for enacting reform, even with the Massachusetts setback.

But it’s not an easy plan to execute, at least in this political environment. And it’s not clear — to me and to many of the people I’ve interviewed — whether Democrats in the House, Senate, and administration are sufficiently committed to making it work.

Cohn added that House and Senate negotiators are “already finding common ground” on some key provisions, though the excise tax remains a major point of contention.

Also note, Cohn reported that the administration may be offering mixed messages about reform, but “sources say that President Obama himself remains absolutely committed to pursuing comprehensive reform — more so, in fact, than many of his political advisers.”

One more thing. My friend Tim F. wrote yesterday, “My heart tells me that Steve Benen has it right. HCR will die quietly on some back burner while everyone involved declares that they’re determined to get it done.”

To clarify, that’s not quite what I think will happen; it’s what I fear might happen if the policymakers back off for too long. The point I’ve hoped to emphasize is that time is of the essence, and that the die-by-neglect scenario — letting reform simply wither on the vine — can and should be avoided by Democratic leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and reform proponents pushing them to do the right thing.