When it comes to health care legislation, what may be good for the White House and its leaders is bad for Congressional Democratic Party incumbents. Over the long term, it may be bad for President Barack Obama, too.
With the health care vote likely to take place Sunday, the result boils down simply to math. And the stakes are higher than merely health care's future.
At risk is the Democratic control of Congress that will be decided in November. Looking ahead to 2012, the Obama presidency is also on the line.
Obama is pitching hard that if health care doesn't pass, history will put him down as a failure.
If Obama loses, then he'll pay the price for having misjudged the public mood and wasted more than a year debating an issue that is of secondary importance to Americans behind the country's stubborn unemployment rate.
But that's only half the story. The other half is that if Obama wins, the public will perceive him as a dictatorial liberal who, with the help of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, browbeat reluctant representatives into voting for a bill that they knew would doom them at the polls.
Furthermore, if Obama prevails the Republicans will spare no effort between now and November to portray the Democrats as indifferent to the public will. For months, it has been clear that voters oppose health care.
For Obama then, the scenario that's playing out is win but lose or lose and lose.
That the health care debate has come to this crisis point is amazing.
The Democrats have a super majority in the House and until recently a majority in the Senate. Yet they couldn't pass their bill. And as of today, the House still doesn't have the necessary 216 votes for passage secured.
Perhaps that's an indication of its inherent weakness.
Neither Obama nor anyone in his administration can explain how the federal government that cannot manage any entitlement program could suddenly find a magical way to effectively administer to a 2,309 page, $950 billion health care bill that nobody has read or understands. Certainly it would be rampant with waste, fraud and opportunities for abuse.
The outcome will be in doubt right up to the end. Although Obama and Pelosi are confident that they can convert enough former "nay" votes to "yea," the Republicans have been plotting for months to delay the eventual passage of health care if not kill it altogether.
According to Capitol Hill insiders, the GOP game plan is to subject health care to a painful procedural death.
The Republicans first step is to kill it in the House. In an under-the-radar effort to target undecided House Democrats, prominent Senate Republicans including Scott Brown (R-Mass.) are making anxious constituents in vulnerable districts know that their representative may be slipping into the "yea" side of the ledger.
Second, Republicans plan to use as delay tactics points of order that prohibit lawmakers from including anything "extraneous" in the bill. Any new bill must meet six different tests, such as requiring every element to affect the budget in a significant way.
The third Republican tool is the amendment process. After 20 hours of debate, Republicans can offer as many amendments as they can squeeze in.
The objective would be to force Democrats into politically risky votes on contentious issues and thereby force the approval of amendments that would ultimately kill health care.
Voting could go on for weeks unless the Democrats could convince the parliamentarian, the Senate's advisor on the Standing Rules, that Republicans are being "dilatory."
Even when the voting is over, the debate may well not be.
In an interesting end note, Obama may not be unhappy if he only survives a single term. Perhaps anticipating the lose-lose script I outlined earlier, in a January interview with ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer Obama said that he'd rather be: "a really good one term president than a mediocre two-term president."
Obama may well be limited to one term. Whether he would be remembered as a "really good" president is doubtful.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.