Moreover, since the only way for the bill to pass at this point is to use the budget reconciliation process in the Senate, passing it would require relying on what will be portrayed as procedural trickery—a circumvention of the Senate's traditional process. Fair or not, I can't imagine that Republicans will talk about it any other way. And if we've learned anything about public opinion during this health care debate, it's that the public doesn't like either drawn out political debates or the messy details of the legislative process; passing the bill using reconciliation is only going to expose them to more of those details, and thus, I suspect, likely to make it even less popular.I think this is highly unlikely, and it would be a massive mistake for Democrats to follow that advise.
It's worth mentioning, first of all, that "fair or not" is silly; of course such accusations would be unfair. Reconciliation is thirty years old, and there's nothing at all wrong with using it to pass legislation. What's more, pass and patch (or pass-then-patch) involves passing health care reform through perfectly normal, regular, procedures -- and then fixing the original bill through reconciliation. Now, granted, Republicans are apt to complain about procedure, and it's true that Americans don't like partisan squabbles and don't like hearing about procedure. But once the bill is passed, it seems very likely that the national press will tire of procedural complaints about a bill passed weeks, and then months, ago.
Second, it's a real mistake for Democrats to worry too much about how Republicans will portray things that they do. Republicans are naturally going to bash Democrats for everything; should Democrats respond by doing nothing? Surely not. Democrats should do things that they believe are good for the nation. Democrats believe that health care reform is good for the nation. They are, like it or not, going to be attacked for health care reform. Those who get their information only from Republican news sources will believe those attacks -- but people who get their information only from those sources are not swing voters.
So the choice for Democrats may actually be whether they want they want to be portrayed as so single-minded in their determination to push their unpopular agenda on the public that they are willing to use party-line voting and any sort of obscure procedural trickery they can come up with to get it passed, or whether they want to be able to make the argument that they responded to the public's clear concerns and backed off an incredibly unpopular piece of legislation when they had the chance.
This is, I'm sorry to say, ridiculous. Forget about how Democrats will be "portrayed," since Democrats have no control over that, and Beck and Rush and everyone will be creative enough either way. The real options are:
1. Suderman option. Democrats campaign on having done nothing, because all the things they wanted to do proved unpopular.
2. Pass-then-patch option: Democrats campaign on closing the donut hole, ending rescissions, getting insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, and other items that they believe (and polling shows) will be popular.
Really, it comes down to this: if Democrats truly believe that their plan will be deservedly unpopular if passed -- that people will hate the individual mandate more than they like the benefits it brings -- then they should back off. Not because of how it will be portrayed, but because of what the program actually does. If, however, Democrats believe that once passed health care reform will rapidly become part of the scenery, the way that Social Security and Medicare have become, then it's not even a close case; the best political course for them is to pass the bill.