Sunday, January 24, 2010

Were there ever any Senate Republicans open to good-faith compromise on the health care bill? - A small reality check from George Packer

Kevin Drum quotes a dumbfoundingly stupid passage from one of the anonymous contributors to the Economist's "Democracy in America" blog:
Suppose you had just woken up from a year-long hibernation [....] You would come to one of two conclusions: [JW: We'll skip the first one....] 2) The country has been paralysed by party politics, such that not even one rogue or idiosyncratic or centrist or mischievous Republican would cross party lines to support the Democrats' bill. Option two strikes me as more unlikely, but we're all operating as if it were the case.
That conclusion strikes him as unlikely? To quote Barney Frank's lapidary question to a LaRouchite Town Hall lunatic last summer, "On what planet do you spend most of your time?"
I see an opportunity, however miniscule, for the Democrats to take this time to re-work the bill in a way that would have broader appeal [....] Optimistic, or dangerously naive?
I wish all questions were so easy to answer. "Dangerously naive" captures it perfectly. This person is supposed to be a journalist. Does he or she take the trouble to consider the available evidence, or even to read the newspapers?

=> On this planet, despite some propaganda, political spin, and gullible punditry to the contrary, the obvious fact is that the Congressional Republicans, who have achieved a level of party discipline usually restricted to parliamentary parties, have pursued a systematic strategy of monolithic rejectionism and all-out obstructionism to defeat the Democratic effort to pass a health care reform bill, without proposing any serious alternative of their own or being willing to bargain in good faith for constructive compromises. (For some fleshing-out of the picture, one place to start would be a recent analysis by the skeptical Republican columnist David Frum.) It looks possible that this uncompromising rule-or-ruin approach may turn out to have been tactically successful in derailing health care reform (as it was in 1993-1994), though that remains uncertain. Whether or not that would be substantively good for the country is another matter.

I do recognize that some people may find this Republican strategy entirely justifiable, on the grounds that the Democrats' proposal--as it took shape over the course of 2009 in the context of the usual legislative sausage-making combined with unrelenting legislative trench warfare--is so radically defective and potentially disastrous that it had to be killed at all costs, so that doing nothing really is a superior alternative. I believe that such a position is dramatically wrong, and that its success would be very harmful to the country, but at least this is logically coherent position that faces up to the political realities.

On the other hand, to pretend that the Congressional Republicans have not been pursuing a monolithic strategy of rejection and obstruction, that they have been willing to bargain in good faith, and that the Democrats are the ones who haven't been open to reasonable compromise--yes, there are people who have made, or implied, all these claims--is simply to lose contact with reality. I realize that a few readers will have sincere disagreements with me on this point, so I hope they will pardon me for being blunt.

Want some empirical evidence? George Packer, in a recent post on his New Yorker blog, suggests that we should all try to face the facts in this matter, however painful or discouraging that might be.

--Jeff Weintraub
George Packer
January 20, 2010
The Lonesome Death of Post-Partisanship

The other day, I was lighting a fire with a copy of the Times from June 27, 2009 when my eye fell on an article about Republican objections to the health-care reform bill. Back then, the public option troubled Susan Collins, who also “said she would like to see the legislation ‘put more emphasis on health promotion, disease prevention, end of life care', as well as tax credits for small businesses and self-employed Americans to ease their access to health insurance.” Her fellow Mainer Olympia Snowe “said she was striving to produce a plan ‘that does not undo the current system in terms of employer-based coverage or the quality of our health-care system’.”

It occurred to me that these might be grounds for negotiation if Democrats end up needing to pick up a few Republican votes (a need that came to pass yesterday). And then, as the paper went up in flames, it occurred to me that pretty much every one of these objections and conditions was met in the bill that passed the Senate last month, without the benefit of Ms. Collins’, Ms. Snowe’s, or any other Republican’s support.