The National Catholic Review

The President sent a mixed signal about the future of health care reform in his State of the Union address. His words were clear: "Don't walk away from reform.  Not now.  Not when we are so close.  Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people. Let's get it done." Clear enough. The problem is that those strong words came after the President had discussed everything from jobs to climate change legislation to trade deals to community colleges. That is how you dial back in Washington. At this critical juncture, we encourage you to exercise the full influence of your office to urge Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation." The group, which included many of the members of the President’s own Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke to the moral aspects of the issue, which were unchanged by the special election results in Massachusetts.

Faith leaders have continued to call on the administration and Congress to recommit themselves to reform. Two days ago, I mentioned the letter the USCCB sent to members of Congress. Yesterday, the Catholic Health Association echoed the bishops’ call and the President’s words. Sister Carol Keehan, DC, president and CEO of CHA said in a statement: "We understand the political realities and concerns with passage of such important and far-raching legislation. But we firmly believe that now is not the time to let those concerns derail what may be the last opportunity of our lifetime to address the continuing shame of allowing so many individuals and families in our nation to go without access to affordable health care."

Earlier in the week, a group of prominent religious leaders wrote to the President, saying, "At this critical juncture, we encourage you to exercise the full influence of your office to urge Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation." The group, which included many of the members of the President’s own Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke to the moral aspects of the issue, which were unchanged by the special election results in Massachusetts.

Of course, while we’re thinking of the Bay State, when John F. Kennedy wrote Profiles of Courage, he had to go back to the nineteenth century to find seven of the nine profiles and little has changed to increase the courage quotient within the halls of Congress. Clearly, both the White House and Congress recognize that they need to set health care reform aside and work on a jobs bill first. I suspect the White House will also seek to have a major bipartisan victory on some issue, any issue, before trying to tackle health care again. So, how to proceed?

The White House should steal a page from recent Vatican history. Vatican II called for greater collegiality among the episcopate and in response Pope Paul VI set up the Synod of Bishops. From all around the world, bishops would come to address critical issues in the life of the Church. The first synod, in 1967 treated the topic "Preservation and strengthening of the Catholic faith, its integrity, its force, its development, its doctrinal and historical coherence." The 1971 Synod focused on the ministerial priesthood and justice in the world. The problem developed, however, that drafting documents that reflected each synod’s work was cumbersome and unwieldy. So beginning with the 1974 Synod on evangelization, the bishops spent their time in discussion and left records of their talks, with suggestions and proposals, on the Pope’s desk and let him put it all into a single document. The Pope could, as needed, call back the authors of the varied interventions, or the synod’s relators, to clarify a point. Thus, documents like Paul’s Evangelii Nuntiandi and John Paul’s Ecclesia in America were joint efforts, the ideas coming from the synod and the synthesis and integration of the ideas coming from the Pope.

President Obama needs to pull together all the different proposals on health care. He need not limit his ideas to the two bills that actually passed both chambers, but the process by which those bills passed should guide his thinking about what can, and cannot, pass. Obviously, he needs to have some long talks with Senator Olympia Snowe and other centrist Republican Senators but he should meet with the leadership of both parties (put it on C-SPAN just to shut up the crazies!), solicit their ideas and embrace the ones he can. If Minority Leader Boehner says he wants tort reform, give him tort reform but then ask what he is going to give. If he says "Nothing," walk outside to the waiting cameras. The President needs to have some long talks with Joe Liberman and Ben Nelson, the two members of the Senate Democratic caucus who caused the most grief. He needs to sort through the abortion issue and he needs to start with the fact that the only health care bill to garner a single Republican vote so far was the House bill that included the Stupak Amendment. The President will need to sit down one-on-one with key senators, not rely on Sen. Reid to deliver the votes, and with key members of the House. He needs to look them in the eye and make them promise to support the bill. He may have to scale back his goals. But, the key thing is that he must take the leadership role at this stage. Letting Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid continue to drive the process is to commit to more water-balloon handling: When the moderates squeeze here, the lefties will burst there, and nothing will happen. The President is not only head of state and head of government, he is the head of his party and he needs to exercise this latter role if he is to succeed in the first two.

The other thing the President must do on health care is remind independent voters that he is trying to make things better and the Republicans are not just obstructing his efforts, their obstruction amounts to a defense of the status quo. (It is imperative that he adopt one or two GOP reform suggestions as well, to be able to say that he is not trying to ram through an excessivley liberal program.) Independent voters are not leaning towards the GOP because they like the GOP’s proposals. They are leaning that way because they hate the status quo and the Dems are the party in power. They are registering their opposition to the way things are. The President needs to remind the country – every day and in every speech – that he is the one who is trying to deliver change and paint those who stand in his way as the defenders of the status quo.

Some have suggested that the House should pass the Senate bill. but Speaker Pelosi said she does not have the votes. So, there was a suggestion to pass the Senate bill as is, but with the simultaneous guarantee that the Senate, using reconciliation and thus avoiding a filibuster, will amend the bill to the House's liking. This smells of shanenigans and will only add to the perception that Washington is broken.

The battle for health care can yet be won. But, the methods of 2009 are best left in 2009. The President and Congress should work on a jobs bill. Then they should work on something bipartisan. But, come Eastertide, the President should take the health care issue by the horns and push, push, push for a successful reform bill. Only he can do it.

Michael Sean Winters



James Lindsay | 2/2/2010 - 11:57am
We are called to do the Father's will. Recall the parable of the two sons - one who professed a desire to do his father's will and did nothing while the other said he would not do so, but then repented of it and did what his father asked. The job in this case is to reduce abortion - not have good talking points. As for partial birth, the whole bill was a stalking horse for overturning Roe. If you don't believe that, read the Amicus briefs in support of the law. There was never an overwhelming number of "partial birth abortions" in practice in the third trimester. Indeed, if there were, there would have been a reference to trimesters in the Act. Since there was none, many conclude that overturning Roe was the goal. That goal failed miserably.
Anonymous | 2/1/2010 - 6:59pm
Roberts and Alito upheld the ban on partial birth abortion. There would not have been enough votes to overturn Roe. It is not clear that they would not overturn Roe when directly challenged.

As Mother Teresa said we are not called to be effective we are called to be faithful. Bush was more faithful to the pro-life than any president in since Roe.

"political advertising" is exactly what was protected: "Congress shall make no law" "abridging the freedom of speech". You might disagree with the majority but certainly this is not a radical nor immoral interpretation of the first amendment.
Anonymous | 1/29/2010 - 2:10pm
If the president cared about bipartisanship then he would see if he could get a moderate bill supported by moderate dems and moderate republicans. That would then make a fillibuster only possible if the liberals and conservatives banded together (which won't happen). Instead the president is very partisan and he is pushing for liberal policies that moderates and conservatives have trouble supporting. His problem remains the moderate democrats who are up for re-election. He continues to ask them to be the sacrificial lamb for his benefit.
Anonymous | 1/29/2010 - 12:37pm
So can we put Mr. Winters down as in favor of the GOP PROPOSAL from Scott Brown & others to scrap the current plans & begin again?  And he says Republicans have no ideas.
PS - The CSPAN idea was a pledge of Mr. Obama.  Suddenly people who want to hold him accountable are "crazies"?  I love this post-partisan era Pres. Obama ushered in.
Marie Rehbein | 1/29/2010 - 12:16pm
Everyone should also get over their fear of a filibuster.
Gabriel Marcella | 1/29/2010 - 9:54am
You're moving in the right bi-partisan direction. However, you take a step back by saying ''put it on C-SPAN just to shut up the crazies!'' We're talking about 1/6 of the US economy. Moreover, there is no finer way to restore trust in government than to make the process transparent. Please note that Ted Sorenson admitted to writing the Pulitzer prize winning Profiles in Courage, something that scholars and others had been saying for years.
James Lindsay | 2/1/2010 - 9:58am
Abortion is not a legislative issue, Joe, since it was not legalized by legislation. Roe will never go anywhere, indeed, George Bush's appointees to the Court, Alito and Roberts, could have gone with Scalia and Thomas instead of with Kennedy on partial birth abortion. They did not, so there are still 7 votes who consider Roe as settled law. Bush signed legislation which effectively overturned abortion on demand in the last trimesters - but only if you begin it after the child has begun to be born. You can still abort if the child does not tag up outside the womb.

Our current President promised to end late term abortions. Of course, if the right wing continues to demonize him, they should not expect him to follow through on that promise.
Anonymous | 1/31/2010 - 4:05pm
Sorry Mary,
I should not generalize since MSNBC is not representative of the left.  I should have qualified my comment to say that the MSNBC left hates Bush.
As far as pro-life and Bush, he did so much for the prolife cause that even Obama will not be able to reverse this.  The courts and popular opinion have moved favorable after 8 years of Bush.  Even the ''prolife'' Democrats are getting some nerve!  That is why the venom at MSNBC is so strong!
Mary Ann Camosy | 1/31/2010 - 7:53am
Joe Kash. how can you presume to speak for the left when you are not one of them?  The left does not hate President Bush.  They strongly disagree with him on issues of social justice and war, which do have close ties to economics.  He was also ineffective in the anti-abortion area.  Perhaps you feel hate for those with whom you disagree, but please don't project that feeling onto others.
William Kurtz | 2/1/2010 - 11:14am
Good point about Roberts and Alito, Michael. They weren't willing to overturn Roe, as you pointed out, but they were willing to overturn a century of precedent on behalf of corporations' right to spend on political advertising. Shows where their real priority is, doesn't it?
Anonymous | 1/29/2010 - 5:49pm
The left doesn't hate Bush for his economic policies. They hate him for the war and for his pro-life policies.
William Kurtz | 1/29/2010 - 5:29pm
George W. Bush stayed defiantly to the right, and much narrower Republican majorities backed him in virtual lockstep. (Maybe Democrats need a Tom DeLay to whip them into line!)
And before anyone comes back with the claim that "Bush wasn't a real conservative" and points to pork barrel spending as the proof, consider this: Josh Bolten, his chief of staff, said in a 2007 interview that the Bush White House went along with pork barrel spending as the price that had to be paid for rubber stamp support of the Iraq War.
Finally, Bill Clinton (whom I never voted for) was definitely a centrist- he was more conservative than Richard Nixon on many domestic issues. It hardly helped him with Republicans.
Anonymous | 1/29/2010 - 4:43pm

The base of both parties do not like the "moderate" elements in the party. I personally never vote for RINO's since it is usually means they are pro-abortion. Politically Obama is giving the GOP a gift by being defiant with his leftist agenda. If he truly has bipartisan skills and "tone" changing skills then this will only show with his ability to form a center coalition.

Maybe he might be able to salvage some of the moderate Democrat re-election chances. If he stays defiant to the left then he will lose many more seats in November.
William Kurtz | 1/29/2010 - 4:07pm
Moderate Republicans? In view of the contempt most of the GOP base seems to have for "RINOs", are there any moderate Republicans left outside Maine?
Besides, if Republicans really wanted to do anything about health care (aside from a couple items on the insurance industry's wish list), why didn't they act when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress?
Gabriel Marcella | 1/29/2010 - 2:57pm
We're in full agreement about C-Span. But use of the term "shut up the crazies" is counterproductive if one is trying to build bridges across parties. For that purpose the blog should use more inclusive language.
Anonymous | 1/29/2010 - 2:55pm
Mr. Bindner,

Back when the Dems had a supermajority it was in the moderate and conservative Republican's interest to let the Dems do it alone. Now that the Republican's have 41 then they will be held accountable for a fillibuster. I think that the moderates would work with Obama if he truly came to the center. There was no "pivit" to the center in the SOTU speech. He is hanging the moderate dems out to dry! He is also giving the republicans cover because they will be on the side of the moderate dems.
James Lindsay | 1/29/2010 - 2:33pm
This is assuming that any moderate Republicans are willing to bargain in good faith. The fact is, they fear challenge from the right in most cases if they veer from party orthodoxy, whose goal is to embarrass the President with a loss. Of course, this damages any leverage the Church has on this issue beyond the good will the President has for it as a former staff member of Catholic Charities of Chicago. Of course, that job turned him into one of those raging liberals some of you are so afraid of.
Robert Lynch | 1/29/2010 - 2:33pm
Gabriel: step back and notice that MSW did say to put it on C-Span, so please take yes for an answer! Jeff: "shut up the Crazies" was just shorthand for: "Air the meeting on C-Span in order to cross one red herring off the Republicans long list of them".

BTW, Obama's campaign promise related to meeting held by him; he did not have the power to command that meetings held by the House and Senate members and committees be televised.

Recently by Michael Sean Winters

Collegiality Made Visible (January 18, 2010)
Respecting Religion (October 13, 2008)
Blogging the Presidential Primaries (February 25, 2008)
Blogging the Presidential Primaries (February 25, 2008)
Deaths Door (October 22, 2007)