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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

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The Problem with the Health Care Debate

A few weeks ago, I made this point about understanding what's really happening in the health care debate:

One of the problems with writing about Congressional policymaking as it happens is that a lot of the real meaty stuff happens behind closed doors, and leaders who give "progress reports" do not have an incentive to offer accurate assessments. Instead, they are better off giving overly bullish reports, i.e. spin. So, here is the trouble I find myself in. I suspect that most of the members who speak to the press are trying to spin me. I also do not trust the journalists producing the news stories that serve as my primary data set. I do not think they can differentiate the spin from the reality - and in fairness to them, I do not see how they could. So, like Descartes, I am in quite the epistemological quandary here. But unlike old René, I do not have an insightful axiom like "I think therefore I am" to build knowledge upon.

I am usually very hesitant to quote myself, but I wanted to bring this point back because it is really salient. Scanning across the major insider Washington publications this afternoon - I noted these headlines:

What's the status of the public option in the House?
-Politico: "Pelosi lacks votes for most sweeping public option"
-The Hill: "Pelosi calls an emergency meeting on push for 'robust' public option"
-Roll Call: "Pelosi Still Pushing for 'Robust' Public Option"
-Politico (again): Pelosi publicly whipping on robust public option

What does Obama think about the public option?
-Roll Call: "Obama Expresses Skepticism to Senators on Public Option"
-The Hill: "Obama working on getting Senate votes for public option"

Remember, all of this is happening after we thought the public option was dead but now it's back...AND after we thought Obama was abandoning the public option but then he gave it a solid endorsement in his September address to Congress.

Also, will moderate Democrats vote on cloture for a bill they disagree with?
-The Hill suggests maybe so.
-Congress Daily suggests maybe not.

This is like a merry-go-round. Around and around we go. The reason? All of this is happening behind closed doors, and public access to the debate is highly constricted. These journalists are doing good work getting as much information as possible out of Democratic leaders, but so long as the debate remains behind closed doors, we just can't be sure about what will be in the final House and Senate bills.

Something similar happened with Senate Finance over the summer. They were making good work, making good work, making goo..and then the whole thing collapsed. You just never know when legislators are meeting secretly and our source of information are press reports.

-Jay Cost