ObamaCare may slip to January 2010

The push to overhaul the American medical system may not move forward until after the New Year, Politico reports, which opens a whole new set of questions about the Obama agenda for the 111th Congress.  Nancy Pelosi’s new bill and its mushrooming cost will almost certainly get addressed this month, but the real problem is in the Senate — and not just for Senators:

Democrats have blown so many deadlines for getting health reform done this year that insiders are increasingly skeptical they can finish by year’s end — and some even suggest the effort might slip to a new deadline, before the State of the Union address.

The discussions are an acknowledgment that with only two months left in the year, Democrats are still a long way from sending a bill to the president’s desk. The House could take up reform on the floor as early as this week, with a good shot at passing something by Veterans Day.

But in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is still wrangling with his moderate members to corral 60 votes just to get the debate started. And on Monday, Reid sent a letter to Republicans acknowledging that he is waiting on the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimates and analysis to finish drafting a bill. Democrats signaled that those estimates would not be ready this week, casting further doubt on their ability to finish reform this year.

Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad said he spoke with CBO Director Doug Elmendorf last week and that it sounded like “it would be quite a while” before the estimates were ready. The news makes a Christmas completion “a challenge,” Conrad said.

Barack Obama knew that he needed to pass this quickly in Congress, which is why he put so much pressure on Capitol Hill to get it done by the August recess — in retrospect, a ridiculous notion.  The last thing he needed was having his two big statist agenda items, ObamaCare and cap-and-trade, leaking into an election year  Both are widely unpopular with likely voters, but having a full year between their passage and the midterms would have allowed anger to subside, especially since both bills take a couple of years to ramp up their effects.

If the health-care overhaul gets pushed into 2010, that strategy goes out the window — for both bills.  The closer their votes come to Election Day, the less enthusiastic red-state Democrats will get about either of them, perhaps especially cap-and-trade.  With majorities of likely voters unhappy with both bills, Democrats would be daring the electorate to throw them out of power in the House, and handing the Republicans an easy campaign against big government, high taxation, and undisciplined spending.

That becomes doubly true if the Republicans can pull off the big East Coast sweep tonight, in particular New Jersey.  Obama campaigned hard for Jon Corzine, and even a narrow win for the Democrat in a heavily Democratic state will not convince moderates in either chamber that running on Obama’s coattails will help them in the midterms.  If Christie wins, expect more Democrats on Capitol Hill to start siding with Joe Lieberman and asking for incremental reforms rather than the comprehensive government takeover proposals being pushed by Pelosi and her progressive allies.

By January, expect a full revolt over ObamaCare and cap-and-trade.  And expect the Democrats to look mighty foolish as they choke on items 2 and 3 of their Congressional agenda.