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Plenty of time left on the clock

When it comes to any political fight, trying to draw sweeping conclusions about the final score in the first quarter is a fool's errand.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

When it comes to any political fight, trying to draw sweeping conclusions about the final score in the first quarter is a fool's errand.

Following yesterday’s proposed health care “fix” from President Obama, there’s quite a bit of interest this morning in what’s likely to happen next on Capitol Hill. Like Kevin Drum, I tend to think this fight offers more heat than light.

Republicans are interested only in Obamacare’s failure and will refuse to support any Democratic bill that genuinely addresses the problem. Conversely, Democrats are interested only in improving Obamacare and relieving the political pressure they’re feeling. They will refuse to support any Republican bill that contains an obvious poison pill. Unless I’m missing something, the intersection of these two positions is the null set. Thus, there is no bill that can pass Congress. […] No one should waste any time reporting or commenting on the various bills that are likely to pop up over the next few weeks. It’s all just posturing.

There will be a big vote in the House later, but certain truths appear inescapable: the Senate won’t pass the House bill; the House probably won’t pass the Senate bill; there may not even be a Senate bill; and President Obama will almost certainly veto any bill that undermines the Affordable Care Act in a substantive way. Besides, for many insurers, it’s a moot point, since they’ve already scrapped old plans.
So, while there may be a furious fight in Congress, it’s unlikely to amount to much.
Which bring us to a larger point: a whole lot of the current hysteria surrounding “Obamacare” won’t amount to much, either. Watching the apoplexy unfold in recent weeks, I’ve occasionally had the impression that the political world is hyperventilating because it’s bored and wants something to talk about.
Obama relied on a football metaphor yesterday, which is as good as any, and it speaks to a relevant detail: in this game, it’s still the first quarter. The home team got off to a rough start and is losing – in part due to sloppy play and in part because the of rival team’s sabotage – but it’s early. The rival team is feeling pretty good about itself right now, but the home team can make adjustments and make a comeback. Sometimes, teams losing in the first quarter still manage to win before time expires.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, when Massachusetts tried to implement an identical system six years ago, it got off to an awful start – just 123 people signed up for benefits in the first month – but no one much cared. There was a general understanding that this would take time and officials would have to adapt to changing circumstances. In time, the system improved and now it’s a popular success.
This didn’t happen, but imagine a month into the open-enrollment period in Massachusetts, if anti-healthcare forces screamed that the law is a failure and the media started comparing it to wars, scandals, and natural disasters. This, of course, would be terribly silly – especially with the benefit of hindsight – and yet, the political establishment is doing exactly that now, and nearly everyone is just going along as if this were responsible.
My broader suggestion to the political world is simple: take a deep breath. Contests aren’t won or lost in the first quarter.
Yes, we can see how a team is playing and get a sense of what might happen, and when it comes to implementing the Affordable Care Act, the home team has made some costly mistakes. If they keep playing like this, they’ll lose.
But a little patience is in order, and this silly conversation isn’t helping anyone. The cancelation notices affect about 1% of the population – not that you’d know that from the overheated coverage – and measures are being implemented to give those folks a hand. The website is a dysfunctional mess, and efforts are underway to get back on track.
If these early mistakes are corrected, the system will work and the current apoplexy will be a footnote in history. If the mistakes linger, the nation may have a real disaster on its hands. But trying to draw sweeping conclusions about the final score in the first quarter is a fool’s errand.