Looking at the current standoff in the Senate over health care I hope it’s occurring to members—and ideally not just to the liberal members—that this is not the end but the beginning of the legislative challenges they face. After what’s gone on in health care, the incentives are set for centrist members to be more intransigent next time around and now progressive members are also going to be looking for bills it would be reasonable to hold hostage to various demands.
And looking forward to the rest of Barack Obama’s term in office, there’s still an urgent need to tackle climate change, immigration, and the long-term deficit. Three issues that are all substantially harder than the health care debate that’s sucked up the entire first year. Throw in the need to do financial regulatory reform (easier than health care, but hardly easy) three additional budget/appropriations cycles and you’re looking, at an agenda that’s simultaneously minimal in terms of what has to be done and that also looks totally impossible. Lower the threshold for passing amendments and bills to fifty votes, and the road ahead still looks difficult but you can at least imagine it working out.
At any rate, I recall that conservatives really hated my “Ungovernable America” piece, but if they think about it honestly I think they’ll see that the situation was the same under George W Bush. By simply deciding to not pay for his proposals—either his tax cuts or his hikes in Medicare and K-12 education spending—he was able to get bills passed. But he made less progress in eight years than Obama has made in one in tackling the fundamental problems in the budget, in the tax code, in the health care system, etc. And Obama hasn’t made much progress!