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Tougher Than They Thought

The Hill reports that maybe the president and Democrats really did bite off too much to chew:

Concerns over the cost of overhauling the nation’s healthcare system have served as a wake-up call to lawmakers.

They had planned for a busy summer of healthcare and climate change debate, a dozen spending bills, a defense authorization and hearings on President Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) even promised to add a sweeping overhaul of immigration to that list.

But the revelation that revamping the nation’s healthcare model could greatly exceed $1 trillion over the next 10 years, along with an intra-party debate in the House on climate change legislation, has lawmakers feeling the weight of the packed agenda and sensing the need to narrow the list.

“There is a risk of not doing anything by trying to do too much,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said. “I think there is going to be a narrowing-down as time goes on.”

And even the Sotomayor confirmation process may not sail through:

Senate Republicans said Wednesday they would press for a thorough examination and discussion of her record, a process that will consume precious floor time.

“We’re not getting all the documentation that we asked for,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), a senior Republican on the Judiciary panel. “Some of it is voluminous.”

One has the sense that the administration and Democrats took a calculated risk. With a popular president in a time of economic crisis they assumed that a huge, enormously expensive agenda could be rushed through, the faster the better so that voters would not develop sticker shock. But they have — before the agenda could be rammed through. The combination of the stimulus plan (which has proven to be a bust) and the car company takeovers has sent a shudder through the electorate and stirred up Independents. As Charles Krauthammer observed of Obama, “the absurdity meets reality in Congress, and that’s why he’s in trouble.”

The question remains whether the Democrats will jettison parts of the agenda, modify its component parts (e.g. drop a public option) or simply ram through their whole liberal agenda on straight party-line votes. And as for the latter option it is not even clear there are sufficient Democratic votes to pass the more extreme versions of items on the Democrats’ agenda.

It seems that the crisis has not provided cover to enact a sweeping re-working of the American economy and the role of the federal government. But stay tuned — the battles are only beginning.


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