Sam Stein on How Health Reform Passed

Sam Stein’s long HuffPo piece on how the Obama Administration approached and facilitated passage of health reform is fascinating reading. The following is a tiny sample.

On the evening of Tuesday, January 19, Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid convened in the Vice President’s office in the West Wing. The topic that night was an agreement to be unveiled the next day to create a bipartisan fiscal commission to look into tackling the debt — the ceiling of which Congress was being asked to raise. But before discussions could conclude, there was an interruption. Emanuel entered the room asking the congressional leaders to come to a private meeting with the president.

As they walked to the Oval Office, the mood was grim. Polls had not yet officially closed in Massachusetts, but the White House had concluded they would lose Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat and with it, their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

“We’re going to lose Massachusetts,” Obama told the two. “I still want to get health care done. Nancy, can the House pass the Senate bill?” …

“I don’t know,” the Speaker told Obama just hours before newly elected Senator Scott Brown would take the stage. “We need to see how this is all going to play out and I need you not to push me [publicly]. The House has to decide to do it on its own.” …

In the week after Massachusetts, the White House bowed to Pelosi’s request for space and time. …

Emanuel presented a Plan B. The president could go with a scaled down bill that — while falling well short of the meaning of “comprehensive” reform — would satisfy the more superficial desire for a legislative win.

During the campaign, Obama had been presented with crises that felt as existential as Scott Brown’s win (notably the fiery sermons of his one-time pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright). And in each case he had chosen to ‘go big’ in response. When Pelosi dismissed Emanuel’s counter-proposal as “Kiddy Care” his intuition was confirmed. Rather than back off, Obama barnstormed. …

After introducing his own legislative proposal for reconciliation, the president made an even bolder gambit: proposing a lengthy bipartisan summit on health care reform at Blair House. …

In the end, seven hours of conversation on an unseasonably warm late February day provided congressional Democrats, and Pelosi in particular, that which they needed most: breathing room. It also proved to be a critical turning point in reform’s fortunes.

“I don’t think we could’ve passed health care without it,” Pfeiffer said of the summit. “I really don’t.”

Read the whole thing.

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