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Health Care: Now, It's War
President Obama's speech to Congress and the nation this week recalled the heights his rhetorical power reached in last year's campaign. It also made clear he has abandoned any hope of a health care bill that's bipartisan enough to get 70 votes or more in the Senate.
What emerges from this year's historic debate will now be a distinctly Democratic bill opposed by virtually every Republican in both the House and the Senate. It will pass or fail depending entirely on Democratic leaders' ability to rally their own troops in support. In the Senate, that support will probably need to be unanimous.
The president reinforced his one-party strategy on the day after his speech, when he brought to the White House a critical group of senators who represent the middle ground on the issue in their chamber. Every one was a Democrat.
In fact, the president deliberately stepped on certain GOP toes that are particularly sore these days. Denying that his health plan would add to the deficit, he accused the Republicans of hypocrisy. He pointed to the Iran-Afghanistan wars begun by President George W. Bush, which were treated as "off budget" and will add roughly $1 trillion to the deficit over a decade.
That was the impetus for the joint session the president addressed this week. Despairing of changing many minds on the Republican side, the White House determined it had to shore up support on its own side. And that meant going back to what the Obama team knows best -- partisan politics of the kind seen in an election campaign.
So achieving any sort of consensus on health care seems out of reach. The immediate problem for the White House is uniting Democrats to do a bill alone. Beyond that looms the problem of restoring relations with at least a few Republicans so as to make coalitions possible on other issues later on.