While we can never assume the contentious issue of health care reform will be completely solved by this edition of Congress, indications are that it will be off the table by the time they go on spring break later this month. President Obama even held up departure on his Asian trip in expectation of having a health care bill on his desk by then.
Yet when Congress moved with lightning speed in the early months of 2009 it looked like the Democrats’ ambitious agenda would be wrapped up, tied with a bow, and presented to the President as a gift to the American people in time for last Christmas. Truth is, the agonizingly slow debate over Obamacare threw a wrench into the plans Democrats in Congress had for cap-and-trade, which in turn halted progress on the immigration fix promised by President Obama during his campaign.
Last year Democrats had their hopes up for a quick resolution to these issues as the second session of Congress traditionally is a time for members, particularly in the House, to play it a little more safe and avoid controversial issues which could spell trouble for their re-election chances. Instead, the question then becomes whether Congress will try and take the safe route when they return in mid-April.
Because Democratic leadership in Congress is already wildly unpopular thanks to their aggressive tactics of dubious legality in trying to get Obamacare passed, they likely will put the pedal to the metal and attempt to ramrod their agenda through before November. We could even get a Christmas surprise from the lame duck Democrats when they come back to wrap up their affairs after the fall recess, especially if the elections spell the end of their majority in the House.
House Democrats are already frustrated because they’ve done the hard work on some of President Obama’s pet projects like cap-and-trade only to see their efforts fizzle in the Senate. Senators now face a backlog of over 300 bills passed by the House which haven’t cleared the Senate, and the process is always fraught with the potential of requiring a conference committee to hammer out differences between legislation passed by the separate bodies. We already see what damage has been done to Congress’s reputation by not going to a conference on health care reform.
In having large majorities in both the House and Senate allied by party with the President, the last thing one would have expected would be a tag of a “do-nothing Congress.” But perhaps the most memorable thing about the Pelosi-Reid led 111th Congress was just how quickly it lost support among the people because it focused on the wrong things – in an economic situation which cried out for common-sense measures to create more private-sector jobs and stabilize the financial situation, Congress instead focused on changing a health care delivery system looked on favorably by a large percentage of the people.
This antagonistic attitude has spawned the largest protest movement in forty years, with millions taking to the streets demanding a smaller, more fiscally responsible government. But in a time where the best option would be doing more than just providing temporary fixes to the economic situation – such as the one-month unemployment extension which got Senator Jim Bunning up in arms because it wasn’t being paid for – it appears Congress is going to continue with an agenda the American people have soured on.
It’s an agenda which could spell doom for vulnerable Democrats in November, and April may be the last chance to change course.