As the healthcare reform fight goes all haywire, Democrats are surprisingly united. Not in the recognition that 45,000 people will die without coverage this year and the next and the next unless something is done. And not in the fighting the leading cause of bankruptcy -- medical bills -- in America. No, Democrats are all lined up in blaming the special election in Massachussets for derailing healthcare reform. The media has joined in, coming just short of saying that Republicans, with a 41 seat minority, now control Washington. Barely short, because the consensus position is that Democrats have to do what Republicans say now. See, they have 41 seats and the founders envisioned a nation where the side with the fewest votes wins... I guess. Call it "bass-ackward democracy."
Of course, I'll never get tired of pointing out that reform was supposed to be finished in August, but that Harry Reid greenlighted a snipe hunt for Republican votes by Sen. Max Baucus. This went pretty much the way anyone who'd been paying attention expected it to, with Baucus's bill finally passing out of his committee with zero Republican votes. It's tempting to drop this all on those two thin senatorial shoulders, but the truth may be that this wasn't a strategic blunder by two incompetents in the upper chamber, but an institutional failure within the Democrat party as a whole.
The Obama legislative agenda was built around an "advancing tide" theory.
Democrats would start with bills that targeted relatively narrow problems, such as expanding health care for low-income children, reforming Pentagon contracting practices and curbing abuses by credit-card companies. Republicans would see the victories stack up and would want to take credit alongside a popular president. As momentum built, larger bipartisan coalitions would form to tackle more ambitious initiatives.
"Did the Obama team really imagine at the outset that Republicans would acquiesce to the Obama agenda in order to bask in Obama’s reflected glory and popularity?" Greg Sargent wondered yesterday. "...Amazing, if true."
Maybe, maybe not. It wouldn't be the first time that a major newspaper got it wrong or that hypothesis was reported as fact. But the administration's hands-off approach -- even as Baucus and Reid wandered down their idiotic road -- at least suggests there may be some truth to it. The White House may not have stepped in and set things right because they, like Baucus and Reid, thought they hadn't gone wrong.
Sargent also reports what it is Republicans would accept. "Put the CSPAN cameras in the room as the President said," Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on Meet the Press this weekend. "You start with junk lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. Interstate competition among insurance companies. And many of my members would be lookin’ -- would -- would be willing to look at equalizing the tax code. Right now, if you’re a corporation and you provide insurance -- for your employees, you get to deduct it on your corporate tax return. But if you’re an individual on the individual market, you don’t. Step by step to work on the cost problem. That’s what Republicans are willing to do." So, some not completely bad ideas and some completely bad ideas. Anything beyond that, no dice. No ban on denials based on pre-existing conditions, no subsidies for low-income people, no new regulations (in fact, further deregulation), and no mechanism at all to pay for any of it. Few, if any, uninsured people would be insured under this... I guess you have to call it a "plan."
That's what Republicans are willing to do.
"[I]t doesn't have to be on the president's shoulders," writes Steve Benen. "As we talked about yesterday, Congress is its own branch, with its own leaders. It's in members' interests to get this done. Congress should realize the importance of delivering on the promise of reform -- whether it gets instructions from the White House or not should be irrelevant."
Maybe, but "should" and "will" are two different words for a reason. Anyone who expects Harry Reid to snap out of it and start leading isn't really betting on the right horse. The White House is going to have to step in here, twist some arms and stroke some egos, and take up leadership. If that means actually going to war with the Senate majority leader and boneheaded liberals in the House, then war it should be.
Under the marvelous leadership this reform has enjoyed so far, it's going around in circles. Worse, those circles are around the drain. Turns out someone actually has to steer these sort of things.
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