Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chasing rabbits

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Democratic Senator Kent Conrad, a member of the Finance Committee, says that the so-called "public option" is dead. Given that, in his view, there just aren't the votes for it -- 60, to override a Republican filibuster -- it doesn't make sense to "chase that rabbit" anymore. He may very well be right -- and he has an interest in seeing it fail. He is one of the handful of Democrats pushing a bipartisan bill, after all, an alternative to "ObamaCare." (Instead of a "public option," with the government ensuring that people aren't shut out by the insurance industry (and ensuring that people have at least a choice with respect to their health-care coverage, Conrad proposes the creation of non-profit cooperatives that would negotiate insurance coverage for their members.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The time for bipartisanship, if there ever was one, is over, and it is simply appalling that a minority of senators would be able to block any reform bill it doesn't like. I understand that the rules of the Senate allow for filibustering, but there is also something to be said for majority rule, as well as for the rule that ends a filibuster (cloture) and allows for the passage of legislation with a simple majority (reconciliation). If Republicans want to play hardball, why should the Democrats?

The fact is, Republicans have never been serious about bipartisanship. What they support, insofar as Grassley et al. support anything other than the status quo, is not so much compromise but obstructionism. They want to water the bill down so much that it would hardly be reform at all -- so it would either be passed as not-reform "reform" or not passed at all because it would lose the support of liberal Democrats who support more substantive reform, including a "public option." In other words, bipartisanism plays right into the hands of Republicans, an effort, with the support of Democrats like Conrad and Baucus, to split the Democrats and give Republicans either the reform they want or no reform at all, which is what most of them prefer.

Some Democrats, like Harry Reid, are talking tough, but will it be enough. As Jon Cohn put it at The Treatment the other day:

As it happens, Reid's tough talk could (that's "could," not "will") end up making a bipartisan bill more likely. The more that Republicans believe Democrats are wliling to pass reform on their own -- either by maintaining enough party discipline to break a filibuster or by trying to use the budget reconciliation process, in which legislation can pass with a simple majority vote -- the more likely Republicans are to compromise. It's possible Reid's show of pique could actually strengthen Baucus's hand for dealing with Grassley, while also strengthening the hand of those on the right -- be they individual lawmakers or special interest groups -- who would prefer a modestly unacceptable bill to one they really hate.

I hope that's right. Democrats are in the majority, with a large majority, and they need to act like it. It's bad enough that Republicans are winning the spin war with their fearmongering propaganda. Will they now lose the legislative war -- the one that really matters -- because they lacked the resolve to do what they needed to do to get meaningful reform passed?

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Post a Comment

<< Home