Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Upside of Inertia

Six months and counting, Obama's Era of Change has reached a crucial point where the push against "politics as usual" has found a test case in health care reform

At his press conference last night, the President observed that "if you don't set deadlines in this town, things don't happen. The default position is inertia, because doing something always creates some people who are unhappy. There's always going to be some interest out there that decides: You know what? The status quo is working for me a little bit better."

In his struggles against deadlines in the stimulus bill, bank bailout, imminent downfall of Detroit et al, Barack Obama has been governing on a crisis high, where the dangers of doing nothing far outweigh the pitfalls of not getting it exactly right.

Now he is tilting against a health care dragon that has fed on half a century of greed, neglect and, yes, inertia, and his assault is being slowed not only by Republican reflexes as the Party of No but doubting Democrats and the slow erosion of public support for multiple proposals that have failed to cohere into a clear alternative to the current mess.

As the momentum for Change slows, the President may want to consider that inertia in American life has always worked both ways, as a deterrent to progress but also as a brake to driving off a cliff in the passions of the moment.

Nancy Pelosi may or may not "have the votes" to push a bill through the House, but the President--and the country--would be well served by stepping back from a half-year of a crisis high and taking a deep breath to sort out the various aspects of reform--the costs, the savings, the clear need for a public option--and put them together for a consensus that would appeal to all but the extremes of the political spectrum.

In the Senate, Dick Durbin doubts there will be a vote before the start of a month's recess on August 7th to get a bill to the President by his goal of mid-October, since differing House and Senate versions would take weeks, if not months, to reconcile.

On a subject that literally affects people with life-or-death consequences, it's painful to counsel patience, but as the effort of the early Clinton years showed, real chances to get better health care are few and far between. Inertia may be maddening, as reflected in the President's sense of urgency last night, but it also has its uses.

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