Here’s another moment of irony, courtesy of Jake Tapper. John Conyers has erupted in frustration over Barack Obama’s lack of leadership on the ObamaCare legislation, and told Obama that personally in a phone call. Conyers had no hesitancy in disclosing the call to reporters, while the White House offered a more circumspect “no comment”:
Conyers said on the Bill Press Radio Show, as covered by Sam Stein at the Huffington Post: “I’m getting tired of saving Obama’s can in the White House. I mean, he only won (health care reform) by five votes in the House, and this bill wasn’t anything to write home about. The public option is only available, which is the only way you manage cost and get some competition to 1,300 other health insurance companies, the only way he could have got that through is that progressives held their nose and voted for it anyway.”
Asked if President Obama had shown enough leadership in that debate, Conyers said “Of course not, of course not. You know, holding hands out and beer on Friday nights in the White House and bowing down to every nutty right-wing proposal about health care, and saying on occasion that public options aren’t all that important is doing a disservice to the Barack Obama that I first met who was an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself.”
He said White House chief of staff doesn’t care that much about the content of the legislation.
“That is essentially what Rahm Emanuel has said: Just give us anything and we will declare victory,” said Conyers. “Not only is it not a victory, but when it doesn’t work, guess who will come at him: the same guys that were saying let’s go along with anything… This is all my buddy Rahm Emanuel trying to get anything. But look the bill doesn’t go into effect for three years. Many of the people that we are trying to help will be dead by then.”
That attitude certainly is open to criticism, but Conyers is hardly the man to demand a more passionate interest in the content of legislation. Almost five months ago, Conyers openly scoffed at the notion that he should read the bills on which he votes:
During his speech at a National Press Club luncheon, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Democratic Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.), questioned the point of lawmakers reading the health care bill.
“I love these members, they get up and say, ‘Read the bill,’” said Conyers.
“What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”
No one will be surprised by the content of Conyers’ complaint, except those who haven’t paid any attention during the debate. It became clear during the August recess that the White House would sign just about anything Congress managed to produce, as they became desperate for a legislative victory. That desperation has only increased as job losses mount and the administration is seen as blind to the real priorities of Americans and tone-deaf on its spending in a time of already-massive deficits.
Nor should anyone be surprised at Conyers’ description of Obama as “an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself.” Obama has tried to insist that he doesn’t favor a single-payer system to defuse allegations that ObamaCare is nothing more than a Trojan horse for an eventual government takeover, but that aspect has been obvious from the start. It’s why progressives insist on a government-run insurance plan being part of the bill that Conyers won’t read and Obama will sign without worrying about what it contains.
Update: Mary Katharine Ham says not to expect this contretemps to damage the alliance between the CBC and the White House:
Rhetoric aside, when the rubber hits the road, the Congressional Black Caucus will be with Obama on big votes. Black voters are the only demographic group with whom Obama’s approval numbers have never dropped significantly, hovering above 90 percent as support in other segments has dropped by double digits.
Nonetheless, an extended conflict between black legislators and Obama, with black legislators arguing that Obama policies require them to use their “strength and… influence to better represent our communities” can’t help with enthusiasm in this vital Democratic voting bloc in a cycle when enthusiasm will already be low, across the board.