- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A lot of gloomy commentary has been written lately about President Obama. That’s a mis-

take. The president will be around for a long time. It’s far too early to write his political obituary or, for that matter, to reach any definite conclusions.

Mr. Obama will be president three more years, and that’s a very long time.

In fact, the commentariat has lost all sense of perspective - and of timing - when it examines each side of politics’ Great Divide.

To leaven the discussion, here’s a more realistic assessment about what has happened so far and what lies ahead.



First, the health reform debate has not gone on too long. Compared to similarly broad and bold initiatives, the current version of the health bill has come together in a flash.

Big legislative proposals usually percolate for years before they come close to passage. In the case of health reform, serious debate has raged for barely a year. The notion that voters (and the president) are already exhausted by the subject is a ploy used by advocates to hurry up a vote.

Only in a hyped-up, instant-gratification media age would 12 months be considered too long to agree to so massive a change.

Congress was designed to chew over major issues for a long time, which is not convenient during these days of real-time news. Nevertheless, substantial changes usually take a full congressional cycle (two years) to make progress - and then only if the ground was laid thoroughly before the clock started ticking.

By extension, it’s foolhardy to predict that the president’s other initiatives are off the table just because health reform is in trouble.

Congress has a shortened schedule this year because of the November elections. But that doesn’t mean climate-change legislation is dead. A version has passed the House of Representatives and could well do so again next year (at least in some form), which would restart the clock for another two-year Congress.

Mr. Obama is clearly on the right side of popular opinion when he talks about the need for a “green” economy. He’s also right on the science, despite all the shouting from the other side.

It would be short-sighted to count him out on climate-change legislation. It is an issue that will not go away.

In the interim, a half measure is a real possibility. A scaled-back energy bill - stripped of the controversial cap-and-trade provision - is under serious discussion and could move forward given the right set of circumstances.

Even closer to passage is the financial regulation bill. Despite early fits and starts in the Senate, the legislation is getting close to a compromise. Plenty of obstacles remain (a phrase that always applies when lawmaking is involved), but widespread distrust of Wall Street has again put President Obama and his fellow Democrats on the right side of public opinion on this issue.

Do not be surprised if Congress cracks down on Wall Street excesses, and soon. If not this year, next year will present a ripe opportunity.

Remember, the president is in office for four years, not two. Time is on his side.

The same reasoning applies to immigration, education and even deficit-reduction legislation. Dismissed as impossible or unlikely, these and other significant ideas may well blossom in the fullness of time.

Even health reform is being misjudged, at least when measured by the clock.

In one sense, time really is short. The president and Democratic leaders want either to pass health reform in the next few weeks or get credit for going down fighting. The last thing Democrats want is to be seen pushing health care as their top priority too close to the midterm elections. Most voters want to hear about jobs instead.

Pressing health reform now will keep the Democratic base happy for a long time, but limiting the effort to March also will give the skeptics enough time to forget the gambit by November.

Or, at least, that’s what senior Democrats hope.

Then again, the president is far from finished imploring Congress to pass health legislation. He can restart the health war next year if he wants to - or even in 2013, the first year of his second term.

Yes, if the economy recovers, Mr. Obama is likely to be re-elected. That makes his time horizon much longer than is credited to him.

Jeffrey Birnbaum is a Washington Times columnist, a Fox News contributor and president of BGR Public Relations, which has health care and energy clients.

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