Is recess good or bad for reform? It’s up to us…

So there was a lot of back-and-forth this week on negotiations around federal health reform. President Obama’s original timetable to have bills out of both the House and the Senate by August recess is not going to happen. It was always seen as ambitious, if not unrealistic, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if it slipped a bit.

Instead, the new goal in the Senate is to have at least the Senate Finance Committee report out its version of the bill before recess in the next week or two, and then use the August recess to negotiate differences between that bill and the one earlier released by the Senate HELP Committee. That would allow the full Senate to debate the unified bill when they get back in September.

In the House of Representatives, two of committees have done their work, with the House Energy and Commerce Committee remaining. There continue to be negotiations with the “Blue Dogs” on the committee. We’ll see if there can be a committee and/or floor vote before the recess.

Even in the most ambitious timetable never had a final health reform bill ready before the recess. The question wasa how far along in the process we would be.

What people are concerned about is not just slowing the process, but opponents using the August recess to organize the opposition. But Kevin Drum at Mother Jones magazine suggests that this is an opportunity as well in the August recess:

..there’s more than one way to look at it anyway. The first way is the conventional one: Republicans are hoping that the August recess will slow things down. It gives them more time for attack ads, more time to manufacture uncertainty, and more time to drive wedges between unsteady allies on the pro-reform side.

That’s all true. But the main thing that happens during the August recess is that everyone in Washington goes home and talks to people in their district. If their constituents are largely opposed to healthcare reform, it hurts the cause. But if they’re pissed off about the status quo and want to know why Congress can’t get off its butt and do something — well, that can actually speed things up.

Now, that’s not normally what happens. And it won’t this time either — unless Barack Obama’s army of supporters are still ready to go out and answer the call of reform. I’ve long been skeptical about whether his famous electoral machine would continue to work after the campaign was over, but if there was ever a time to prove me wrong, it’s now. If Obama’s army is still willing to go out and do battle, they should show up now and start putting the fear of God into their congressmen. If that happens, the August recess will be the best thing that ever happened to healthcare reform.

I wouldn’t bet the farm on that happening. But congressmen listen to their constituents when they go home for the holidays, and there’s no reason reform advocates can’t use that to their advantage. It all depends on whether we’re really as motivated and as angry as the opposition. Are we?

This is a call not just to President Obama’s supporters and network, but to anybody who cares about health reform. Here in California, we have 2 Senators and 53 Representatives to urge to get health reform done. That’s our challenge, and our opportunity.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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