There's no plan B for health-care reform: The Wall Street Journal has a splashy piece this evening on the White House's plan B for health-care reform: a fallback approach that would cover 15 million people, do less to reform the system and cut costs, and carry a lower price tag. Call it health-care lite.
Plan B has been around for awhile.... At this point, I could quote some White House sources swearing up and down that that's all this is. A vestigial document that's being blown out of proportion by a conservative paper interested in an agenda-setting story. They're furious over this story.... There's no Plan B at this point in the game, and most everyone knows it. Think about what's entailed in restarting the process. The Senate Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee would have to build new bills. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, Education and Labor Committee, and Ways and Means Committee would need to write new legislation. All of those proposals would need to be merged. There would need to be discussions in committees, and then weeks and weeks on the floor. Then there would need to be conference. Then they'd have to come back to the floor. There's no time for that. Congress has a few, final months before everyone scurries home to campaign for 2010. And they want to spend those months forcing Republicans to take difficult votes on jobs legislation, not arguing over whether Medicaid is solvent enough for a major expansion.
More importantly, there's no political upside in starting over. The right will still cry "death panels!" and let loose the dogs of tea, and the left will savage them for failing to pass health-care reform despite controlling the second-largest congressional majority since the 70s. There's a policy argument here in that a fallback plan will cover more people than no plan will cover, but if covering people is what the Democrats want to do, they'll pass the comprehensive plan, which both covers more people and actually gives them a major accomplishment.
At this point, health-care reform either passes or it dies. Democrats are all in on this one. They know it, Republicans know it, and maybe more importantly, they know the Republicans know it. Letting health-care reform fail is indistinguishable from conceding the 2010 election. There's no real fallback plan. If Democrats fall back, they fall.