A stroll down memory lane on health care

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE ON HEALTH CARE…. It’s an unfortunate and persistent truth: if liberals are angry with Democrats, the media establishment assumes Democrats must be doing something right.

Dana Milbank offers a classic example of this, applauding President Obama’s willingness to strike a deal with Republicans on taxes, not because it’s a great agreement, but because he’s enraged leading liberals in the House Democratic caucus in the process. Milbank, for example, lauds the president’s “forceful leadership” and willingness to “stand firm” against the House caucus, signaling that he’ll “no longer allow those in the Capitol to run his presidency.”

This is all pretty routine, right up until this paragraph from the column:

This is a hopeful sign that Obama has learned the lessons of the health-care debate, when he acceded too easily to the wishes of Hill Democrats, allowing them to slow the legislation and engage in a protracted debate on the public option. Months of delay gave Republicans time to make their case against “socialism” and prevented action on more pressing issues, such as job creation. Democrats paid for that with 63 seats.

That’s not even close to being correct.

First, there was a “protracted debate,” but it had nothing to do with the public option. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) led the “Gang of Six” negotiations, which added three months to the fight over health care, all in the hopes of striking a bipartisan deal that clearly wasn’t going to happen. Baucus’ delay was an awful, pointless mistake, but it had nothing to do with the public option, and it was Republicans in the “gang,” not Democrats, who deliberately slowed things down.

Second, the delay had no bearing on Republicans’ rhetoric on “socialism” — the right was making that argument before, during, and after the vote. Indeed, note that the GOP is still calling the Affordable Care Act “socialism,” despite the fact that it makes no sense at all, long after the public option’s demise.

Third, the Republicans’ rhetoric on this was a dud — the GOP was desperate to turn the public against the public option, but it was consistently one of the most popular elements of the plan. The provision was scuttled, not because “socialism” attacks worked, but because center-right members of the Senate Democratic caucus vowed to kill the entire reform initiative unless the idea was removed.

And finally, there was plenty of additional time to pass more legislation on job creation — Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time — but Republicans refused to allow votes on measures related to economic growth. Passing health care reform wasn’t to blame.

I don’t really care about Milbank assuming that angry liberals is evidence of progress, but rewriting recent history is never a good idea.