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OUR OPINION: Clouds block sun at dawn of new day

Judging by the river of America's past, the health care reform bill clearly is a historic turning point. But judging by where that river will take us next, the bill is uncertain. The way ahead is shrouded, much more than usually is the case. Will...

Judging by the river of America's past, the health care reform bill clearly is a historic turning point.

But judging by where that river will take us next, the bill is uncertain. The way ahead is shrouded, much more than usually is the case. Will it be a relatively smooth ride? Or will there be Class 6 rapids?

No one knows.

For that reason, the bill can't yet be celebrated as a net plus. It might be great. It might be a disaster. And that's too much uncertainty for observers to be very upbeat today.The "historic" part is the easy call. What an achievement the bill is -- for President Barack Obama, for Democratic leaders in Congress and for American progressives, who've been waiting decades for this day.

Even Obama's political enemies must admire his iron will once he decided to push the Senate bill through the House. That decision was a tough call.

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After Scott Brown won the late Sen. Ten Kennedy's seat in Congress, Obama faced this choice: Should he be on the Senate bill's risky prospects?

Or should he take the GOP's advice to start again?

By presenting only that choice, the Republicans overplayed their hand, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat suggested Monday. Instead, the GOP should have brought forth a serious compromise -- one much more dramatic than the weak ideas they'd offered before -- and used it to give the president a face-saving way out.

Instead, they went "all or nothing," and wound up with nothing. Congratulations to the president and the bill's supporters -- including Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who was one of the chief architects of the Senate bill that soon will be the law of the land -- for the hard-headed dealmaking and adroit strategizing that saw the bill through to successful House and Senate votes.

Now, what's next?

That's impossible to say. The bill has two huge advantages: The fact that new entitlements tend to be permanent, and the fact that change in Washington is difficult, as we've just seen.

Once the public starts enjoying them, entitlements become very hard to repeal. Especially in cases such as this one, in which 60 Senate votes and a Republican president may be required.

Then again, that deep political bias toward the status quo may not hold this time around. First, the bill creates a costly new entitlement just at the moment when Americans are recognizing that they can't afford the existing ones.

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"We're definitely heading toward some kind of hard choice about the deficit," writes Jay Cost of the Web site www.realclearpolitics.com ."If we weren't, the Democrats wouldn't have employed all those gimmicks to claim that the bill costs less than $1 trillion. They know people are worried about this issue."

Second, the reform passed narrowly with not one Republican vote. That's a huge difference with the older entitlements, which from the beginning had bipartisan support.

As a result, the GOP now is mobilizing, and the party pledges to fight the new bill for months or years to come. The starkly partisan vote in favor of the bill strikes us as its biggest weakness.

Then there's this: "Attorneys general from at least 12 states say they will challenge the constitutionality of the health care reform bill," The Christian Science Monitor reported.

"The attorneys general say they will sue once President Barack Obama signs the bill into law. They are pledging to take their battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Clearly, this bill has set the stage for conflict rather than comity. And that's a big cloud hanging over the Democrats' celebration of the passage of health care reform.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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