The Daschle Counterfactual

I think it’s hard to deny that health care reform would, in some sense, be going more smoothly had not the Tom Daschle nomination wound up getting derailed. But I don’t think people should put too much stock in that. It’s true, as Josh Marshall says, that “there’s just no getting around the fact that the senate is where this legislation is going to live or die. And Daschle knows all of those people, knows the place, knows its inner dynamics.”

It seems to me that thus far the biggest problem that’s arisen is that Max Baucus’ bill writing process has moved far too slow. Consequently, health reform has become subject to tons of attacks before we even know what health reform is. But one can hardly say that the problem here is that somehow nobody in the White House knows Max Baucus. Deputy White House Chief of Staff Jim Messina’s previous job was as Baucus’ chief of staff.


I think there’s something perverse in the very strong desire I see among liberals to make problems in congress be about anything other than congress. It’s just not in the power of Barack Obama to make the senate anything other than what it is. To pass a bill, you need sixty votes. To get sixty votes you need Ben Nelson or Olympia Snowe to back your bill. Neither Nelson nor Snowe is especially liberal, and the President doesn’t have a great deal of leverage over either of them. You can try to change the rules, or you can accept that you’re at the mercy of Nelson and Snowe and maybe a few other moderate members. And it’s crucial to remember that these people — each and every member of congress — is an adult human being, capable of making up his or her own mind, responsible for his or her own decisions, and possessed of moral agency. These are men and women who have amassed a great deal of power, and who ultimately need to decide on a daily basis what it is they want to do with that power. If they choose to use it for bad ends, then blame them for that, not Obama or his team’s alleged lack of familiarity with the United States Senate.