Pelosi Isn't Panicking. Her Party Should Listen.

by Jonathan Cohn | January 19, 2010

The voting in Massachusetts is only hours old, but already the Washington establishment is howling that it's time for the Democrats to drop health care reform.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is having none of it: "Let's remove all doubt, we will have health care -- one way or another," she told reporters on Monday.

Pelosi is one of the two big reasons I believe health care reform has a decent (not good) shot of passing, even if Scott Brown wins today. The other is President Obama. Both understand that enacting health care reform is in their personal, and their parties', long-term interest. More important, both believe health care reform is the right thing to do--and aren't about to give up on it, this close to success, because their party's majority in the Senate is "only" nine seats instead of ten. The fact that so many Beltway know-it-all's insist surrender is necessary will, I suspect, only stiffen the pair's resolve.

But will rank-and-file Democrats go along? They should, as long as they don't let panic get the best of them.

Here are three smart people making that case, starting with Ezra Klein:

The short-term danger of a Scott Brown victory is not Scott Brown in the Senate, or even 41 Republicans in the Senate. It's Democrats freaking out and abandoning the House bill. But on the merits, this is just absurd. The bill has left the Senate, can be passed by the House, and can be tweaked using the budget reconciliation process--which is not some wild idea, given that Democrats initially considered running the whole bill through reconciliation. Nor is a Brown victory some national referendum on health-care reform: This is a special election in Massachusetts where a bad Democratic candidate has insulted Red Sox fans no less than twice. If anyone thinks Ted Kennedy would lose this election or vote to filibuster this bill, they've not said so aloud.

Nate Silver:

Although there has been considerable damage extracted from the debate over health care, there is reason to believe that most of it is in the past. The health care bill itself has not become any more unpopular than when the Senate passed it in November. The party will not do itself any favors by having passed a health care bill through both chambers, only to see it implode.

And, finally, my colleague Jonathan Chait:

The GOP’s ability to ignore establishment nostrums in the face of defeat is its great electoral strength. Democrats, by contrast, have a congenital tendency to panic. Abandoning health care reform after they’ve already paid whatever political cost that comes from voting for it in both houses would be suicide. Even if Coakley loses, the House could pass the Senate bill as is, avoiding the need to break a filibuster, and tinker with it in a reconciliation bill that can’t be filibustered. The only thing preventing the Democrats from following through would be sheer panic.

Remember the classic scene in It’s a Wonderful Life? Facing a run on his building and loan, George Bailey tries to explain to his frantic customers how to look after their self-interest. “Don't you see what's happening?” he pleads, “Potter isn't selling. Potter's buying! And why? Because we're panicking and he's not.” President Obama’s great challenge right now is to be his party’s George Bailey.

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