To add to what Jonathan Cohn says here, part of the significance of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman vowing to do health care reform this year is that he’s implicitly rejecting the common notion that progressives need to choose between action on health care and action on climate change. Those have clearly been the two big domestic priorities for a hypothetical progressive majority in 2009 for a couple of years now, and there’s kind of been an implicit tug-o-war between them. Waxman has a history as a health care reformer from the pre-1994 days. But he’s also one of the House’s leading environmentalists, and spearheaded a successful challenge to John Dingell for control of the committee specifically in order to move climate legislation.
By making these remarks, Waxman is signaling that he doesn’t see a need to choose. He thinks the House, at least, can take major action on both fronts. The Senate, clearly, is a harder hill to climb. But even keeping that in mind, I think this is the right instinct. There’s not a really a fixed sum of political capital that gets spent down. Instead, there’s an issue of whether or not the public mood and the mood on the Hill are conducive to big reforms. If they are, then you do as many big reforms as you can. If they’re not, then you’re screwed.