Former Clinton Adviser Mark Penn on the Health Care Debate

Posted: Mar 09, 2010 6:00 AM

Last week, in an important Washington Post column, Senator Orrin Hatch made an argument against the use of reconciliation in the health care battle taking place on Capitol Hill. Hatch noted that "This use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation, against the will of the American people, would be unprecedented in scope."  On the other side of the aisle, former Clinton adviser Mark Penn seemed to agree with some of Hatch's analysis in a recent article he wrote about the proposed use of reconciliation and a major difference between this health care bill and other controversial pieces of legislation from the past.

In a Real Clear Politics article, Penn wrote the following:

In the past, reconciliation has typically only ever made it to the table when one factor of Congress -- at the behest of special interests -- has set themselves squarely in the path of popular legislation, threatening its passage with delays, obfuscation, and parliamentary maneuvers.
The use of the word "popular" in the paragraph above is an integral part of Penn's piece. [# More #]

Later on in the article, Penn focused on some major past legislation (like Medicare and Civil Rights) and how those pieces of legislation were different than the health care bill today. He wrote the following:
In every one of these contentious national debates, public support was solidified as a pre-condition to final passage. There simply is no shortcut or parliamentary maneuver around that process. The public is uncomfortable with the current bill and this is likely to be a Dirty Harry moment for the Republican party as they dare Democrats to 'make their day.'

Penn's focus on the unpopularity of the health care bill is an important aspect of the current debate. He seems to understand the political ramifications for Democrats who force this bill through Congress. One would hope that moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill read both Hatch's and Penn's piece with great interest before they decide whether or not they want to risk their political futures on an extremely unpopular piece of legislation.