Vacation, All I Ever Wanted
Judging by the intensity of media coverage surrounding Majority Leader Harry Reid’s announcement earlier today that there would be no full Senate vote on health care legislation before the August recess, you might think the chamber had just decided to dissolve itself. So much of the recent daily political narrative has revolved around the question of whether President Obama would get votes (as requested) on health care legislation in the full House and Senate before the recess, and whether failure to do so would spell trouble for his policy agenda. Perhaps now with the finality of Reid’s scheduling announcement, coverage will switch back to a focus on policy content rather than the legislative horse race.
There is a reason why President Obama has been hell-bent on getting health care through Congress this summer. A few decades ago, the political scientist Paul Light wrote in his book, The President’s Agenda, about the dangers of the cycle of decreasing influence. Light argued that a president’s political capital is at a maximum just after winning election and rapidly declines over time, making the achievement of major policy successes more difficult the longer the legislative process drags on. Obama’s behavior on multiple policy fronts over the past six months suggests that he is well aware of his limited window of opportunity, and the possibility that with just a few small changes in the political environment it could close shut at any moment.
So, while Obama’s compressed timetable for the legislation may have been justified from a political perspective, the deadline story had so come to dominate the media’s narrative of health care reform that (as Obama acknowledged today) it is probably better to let the self-imposed deadline pass in order to maintain the goodwill of those in Congress who are inclined to work with the Obama Administration on this issue.

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