Who’s Who in Health Reform? And Does it Mean Liberals Will Lose?

A blockbuster A1 story from the New York Times this morning, by David Kirkpatrick, gives progressives more heartburn on health care reform. Rahm says:

"We have heard from both chambers that the House sees a public plan as essential for the final product, and the Senate believes it cannot pass it as constructed and a co-op is what they can do. We are cognizant of that fact."

More each day, it sounds as if the White House is willing to give the Finance Committee a free pass on the public option and other progressive goals, such as extending insurance subsidies to those with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty level — $88,200 for a family of four. Kirkpatrick reports:

Industry lobbyists and moderate Democrats in both chambers, though, argue that the White House’s actions behind the scenes show a recognition that the finance panel’s anticipated compromise is the most likely template for any final legislation.

Why do Finance and its health industry-funded chairman, Max Baucus, enjoy such privilege, even as one of the committee's key Republican negotiators, Chuck Grassley, tells Americans they "have every right to fear" fictional death panels? To be sure, since the grassroots anti-reform movement hit a fevered, almost violent-pitch last week, the White House — which is shaken by the development — is probably more eager than ever for health reform to have a "bipartisan" imprimatur, even if the only Republican who votes for the legislation is a true outlier, such as Olympia Snowe.

But there are other factors. Last year, during the thick of campaign season, Ezra Klein and I wrote a cover story for the Prospect on Barack Obama's vision of Democratic party-building and legislative success. One of the most surprising things about Obama's electrifying campaign, we reported, was that it was led not by insurgents unschooled in the ways of Washington, but by Congressional insiders, many of them "veterans of the party's impotent era" during the mid-1990s. These are men who worked for Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, and yes — Max Baucus — tempering liberal goals when Republicans held a firm majority. Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief-of-staff known as "Rahm's Rahm" — in other words, an enforcer — is Baucus' former chief-of-staff, and is likely to see thing's Baucus' way, extending the Montana senator's influence into the highest levels of the administration.

To be fair, the White House also employs high-level staffers who've worked for Congress' pre-eminent liberals. Melody Barnes, head of the White House Office of Domestic Policy, is a Ted Kennedy alum. Legislative aide Phil Schiliro, who reportedly represented Team Obama in key House negotiations, used to work for Henry Waxman, who is widely trusted by liberals. But at this point in the game, there is little doubt that the Senate is where the action is, and that hard-nosed, realist compromisers, like Messina and Rahm, are likely to be leading the way.

cross-posted at TAPPED

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