Commentary Magazine


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Rush, Rush, Rush

Nancy Pelosi is facing a backlash from her own caucus over her efforts to jam through the liberal Democrats’ massive health-care overhaul. As the Washington Post explains, part of the problem is simple fatigue and confusion:

“I think the people are shellshocked,” said Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.), linking the recent passage of the $700 billion financial bailout, the $787 billion economic recovery package, climate change and other major bills approved this year. “So much is happening so quickly that what is happening is people are blending it all together,” said Arcuri, who was elected in 2006.

Most troubling in the short term is how few in the caucus of 256 House Democrats understand the emerging 1,000-page bill. Leaders organized a five-hour seminar for Monday to brief lawmakers. “The bill is so complex,” said Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), a co-author. When staff members agreed to hold the session, Rangel said, “response was overwhelming.”

The very reason Pelosi wanted to rush — getting a politically untenable and ill-thought-out scheme through without full scrutiny — is precisely why members are in revolt. But that’s not the only reason for the Democrats’ angst; they have already been burned and are wary of incinerating their political careers:

The climate-change win was initially cast as a major Pelosi victory, because of her investment in securing the necessary votes.

“I don’t know whose decision it was to put cap-and-trade first, but it was a huge mistake,” said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), a conservative leader on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “It’s a divisive issue. I felt like we had the opportunity to do one thing before the August recess . . . and everybody agrees we need to reform health care.”

Pelosi defended her decision. “A number of the people who are having a problem now didn’t vote for the climate bill,” she said. Those include Ross, a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition. But freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D), who represents rural parts of central and southern Virginia, voted for the cap-and-trade bill and is urging leadership to give him time to vet the health-care package with his constituents. “You want to come up with your best ideas and take them out on the road and make them better,” he said, adding that the climate vote had already “unleashed a full range of emotions” back home.

[. . .]

Rep. Jared Polis, a first-term Democrat who represents the affluent Boulder, Colo., area, signed a letter with 20 fellow freshmen and one sophomore member objecting to the tax, which would apply to families with incomes of $350,000 and higher. Polis and his allies worry about the tax hitting small businesses, like the thriving Boulder Book Store and the Mountain Sun brewery in his home town.

This doesn’t mean that Pelosi won’t be able to wrangle votes at some point to pass some sort of health-care bill. But it does show there is a limit to the number of harebrained pieces of legislation lawmakers are willing to pass without reading them first.