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The Need for Speed

By Matthew Yglesias  

"The Need for Speed"

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Apparently the administration’s jobs plan is to have a lot of profiles be written about Rahm Emanuel. But while previous pieces about which issues Emanuel’s lost out on have dwelled on episodes where liberals are likely to disagree with him on the merits, Noam Scheiber’s version of the profile contains this tidbit:

Then, in July, the White House faced a key decision. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, probably the most important of the five committees considering health care, had spent months negotiating with his Republican counterpart, Chuck Grassley, with little to show for it. Emanuel was getting antsy. He gathered his top aides and pressed for a way to hurry the process along. The Senate labor committee had produced its own health care bill. Perhaps, Emanuel wondered, Majority Leader Harry Reid could bypass Baucus and bring it to the floor. Or maybe Baucus could just stop bargaining with Grassley and let Reid move a more partisan version of his bill.

But, in the end, Obama himself favored letting Baucus negotiate until September. (Though Axelrod stresses that the president was “just as impatient as Rahm was to get moving.”) In fairness, even internal skeptics believed a bipartisan package might be attainable. The problem was that, overlaid on a strategy based on speed and momentum, the extra two months exacted a major cost.

I think the only real question here is whether Emanuel’s favored approach was possible. It’s all well and good to say “Baucus should cut these negotiations off” but if Baucus was just determined to be stubborn, then it wouldn’t have happened no matter what Obama said. This, however, makes it sound as if the President didn’t make any serious efforts in that direction, which I think was a major mistake.

Overall, Scheiber’s profile gives the impression of a very political animal. Someone who’s crowning achievement was that House Democrats had a very good performance in 2006 when he was DCCC Chairman and who has a lot of opinions about what would or wouldn’t be politically smart. It’s important to have someone like that in an administration—you can’t take the politics out of politics—but it’s hard to be too sad that the President often winds up siding with people who offer policy-driven arguments. The pacing of health care, however, was really just an argument about politics and would have been a smart time to listen to your savvy DC political hand.

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