A fight to the finish

A FIGHT TO THE FINISH…. I’ll admit it — it’s tempting to think the final push towards health care reform is going well. President Obama told ABC’s Jake Tapper yesterday, “I believe we are going to get the votes, we’re going to make this happen.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) told reporters after a caucus meeting last night, “There’s tremendous anticipation, and certainly a lot of anxiety, but I believe we have the votes and that we will get this bill done this week.”

At the same time, Republicans sound increasingly discouraged. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) seems to think Democrats are going to succeed, and as desperation sinks in, GOP rhetoric is getting a little more excessive.

But let’s pause for a moment to remember that failure remains a distinct possibility, and by most estimates, the leadership still doesn’t have 216 votes. Indeed, with the clock winding down, we don’t see a new round of undecided Dems announcing their support for health reform; we actually see some key Dems making very discouraging announcements in the opposite direction.

On-the-fence members are hearing plenty this week from those who don’t want to fix the dysfunctional status quo.

Several on-the-fence Democrats said they were scrambling to sort out their constituents’ views as the outside noise grows deafening.

“There is definitely more passion from people opposed to the bill,” said Representative Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania, whose offices have been inundated with protests and calls. “I have to decide between passing this bill or doing nothing at all. I need to do what’s best for my district.” [emphasis added]

The White House is twisting arms, and that’s likely to help. Labor leaders and MoveOn are playing hardball, and that’s critically important, too. But are rank-and-file Democratic and left-leaning voters picking up the phone? About half the country wants this bill to pass — but how many of them have communicated that directly to their House rep?

Jonathan Cohn explained, “[W]ith the vote count so close, reform may not pass without … a push from the outside. It’s not clear if that push will come. Recent polls show a clear change in public opinion: People are demonstrating more approval both of the Democrats and their reform bill. But, as far as I can tell, an enthusiasm gap remains. Conservatives hate the bill. Liberals, well, they’re still learning to like it.”

It’s not at all complicated. A once-in-a-generation opportunity is on the line, and if supporters fail to fight, reform may fail to pass.