Vector, Not Scope

I understand what Jamelle is trying to say in response to E.D.  I do.  But I think Jamelle is fundamentally misreading the GOP and the nature of what can make something meaningfully “bi-partisan” (much as that word sends chills down my spine).

Let me start by saying that I mostly agree with Jamelle when he says that”

There is almost nothing in recent political history to suggest that the Republican Party is anything but hostile to health care reform.  And if not hostile, then indifferent.  Republicans had nearly four years of uninterrupted dominance with which to tackle health care reform, and neither President Bush nor congressional Republicans proposed anything. 

I think “hostile” is too strong, but indifferent is probably about right.  Certainly, health care reform is a very low priority for the GOP and to the extent it’s a priority at all, it’s only because it’s so front and center an issue for Dems and liberals. 

Saying something is almost universally a low priority for Republican politicians, however, is not the same as saying that all Republican politicians will be reflexively opposed to any health care reform at all.  It has, for instance, become cliche amongst liberals to say that the McCain health care proposal was worthless and a joke.  Yet the primary difference between that proposal and Wyden-Bennett, which is popular with economists and many movement liberals, solely has to do with the amount of regulation of the individual market – not exactly an irreconcilable chasm. 

My key disagreement with Jamelle comes from this paragraph, however:

Last year, Democrats offered Republicans the chance to make their mark on health care reform.  Yes, it would happen within a liberal framework, but Democrats were more than willing to compromise and scale down if it meant GOP support.  Republicans were repeatedly offered the opportunity to alter the bill to their liking; if Republicans wanted market-friendly reforms, they could have gotten them.  If Republicans wanted something modest and limited, Democrats probably would have delivered.  But they didn’t.  Despite that, Democrats produced and passed a bill that is moderate and bipartisan in everything but name.   

(My emphasis).

The disagreement I have here is that it makes the assumption that altering the scope of a major proposal rather than adjusting its framework is an inherently worthwile effort at bi-partisanship.  In some cases, that may well be true, to be sure.  But it’s not true when the principal objection from the opposing party’s base is the framework itself, which is precisely what the objection has been here almost from Day One. 

That’s not to say that all Republicans would necessarily oppose all health care reforms within a framework acceptable to most liberals.  However, with the huge majorities the Dems had last year, they seemingly calculated that they could pass a major health care reform bill that would be acceptable, if possibly inadequate, to all elements of their large and diverse coalition.  Ths was an understandable calculation – if you can pass health care reform with virtually no support from the opposition party, and thus maintain cohesion within your own party, then there’s really no reason to alter the framework to obtain opposing party votes for any reason other than getting some extra political cover.  Still, the Dem coalition is large and unwieldy, and to get every element of the coalition to go along with a huge reform like health care requires that the possible frameworks for any reform will be a very small set indeed.  In fact, as we eventually saw with the uproar over the deals necessary to push through the Senate bill, that set of possible frameworks may well have even been close to a null set.

The result of all this was that as long as the Dems felt they could pass health care reform of some type with little or no Republican support, there was no reason to compromise or seek to compromise on anything other than the size or scope of the package.  Adjusting the framework was simply impossible if the Dems wanted to maintain any kind of intraparty cohesion. 

The problem is that any framework on such a complicated policy question that is developed to be acceptable to all key elements of one massive and unwieldy political coalition will of necessity be an unacceptable framework to all or virtually all elements of the other political coalition.  Although I think our coalitions are more arbitrary than we generally acknowlege, they still exist for a reason.

In short, although Jamelle is correct in saying that the health care reform bill is “already pretty moderate,” that is far different from saying that it is in any way “conservative” in the sense of “potentially acceptable in principle to a key element of the American Right.”  Expecting that one could get a key element of the modern Right to go along with a reform that moves along an unacceptable vector merely by diminishing the length of that vector is akin to expecting a died-in-the-wool anti-war liberal to go along with the Iraq War by reducing the number of troops being sent and bombs being dropped.  It’s just not going to happen. 

Addendum: I think the following illustration pretty neatly sums up my point (with a nod to Jaybird): Democrats have been insisting that that our health care system’s problems are caused by A and B and that the way to solve those problems is with some negotiable degree of X and Y.  But Republicans, to the extent they are willing to acknowledge the problem at all, are insistent that those problems are caused or exacerbated by the levels of X and Y that are already in the system, or that adding X and Y will only create new problems without solving old ones.  If that is true, then under no circumstance will you ever get a Republican to go along with a policy that uses X and Y as its principle mechanism, even if you minimize the amount of X and Y used.  But that’s a far cry from saying that all Republicans will be unwilling to agree to something that relies on any one of mechanisms C-W, even if this is true of many or most Republicans.

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64 thoughts on “Vector, Not Scope

  1. You’re probably right, Mark. It’s just that I am incredibly frustrated by this compulsion to blame Democrats and only Democrats for the situation we’re in. There’s a lot of blame to go around, and a lot of it goes to the GOP for it’s indifference and immaturity.

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    • No, they are not indifferent — they are vehemently opposed to the current health reform in congress. As for healthcare in general, neither party has done the right for decades — which is to allow the free market to handle healthcare services. So, transcending all this righteous argumentation is a harsh reality — government intervention, starting years back, screwed up healthcare. Until we can all realize that, we’ll get nowhere, and every reform will only make healthcare worse. So, what I’m saying is that I don’t accept your premise.

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  2. I guess I read different things than jamelle, because I am not seeing an overwhelming compulsion to blame Democrats. What I am seeing is a desire to blame “the other.” Liberals blame conservatives. Conservatives blame liberals. As per usual.

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  3. I still think you’re off-base here, E.D. When you have majorities in both houses of congress and the Presidency, with 60 votes in the Senate, I think that a political party should be able to set the terms of the types of reforms it will consider. To most Democrats, the uninsured are the key problem of our health care system that absolutely must be fixed for reform to deserve the name. What kind of reform would be acceptable to Republicans while achieving universal coverage? If they can’t accept the individual mandate, and they can’t accept government provision of health insurance, what’s left?

    When you go on to the other considerations (cost control, insurer regulation), you wind up with more practical problems. Community rating doesn’t work without guaranteed issue, which doesn’t work without the mandate, which doesn’t work without subsidies. We’re back to a point where one party believes that x and y are problems, formulates a solution to those problems, runs for election with that solution as its central domestic policy priority, gains 14 Senate seats, the Presidency, and 60-some House seats over two election cycles, and then tries to implement its platform. If the minority party won’t but in to this framework because they don’t think that x and y are serious problems, the correct response ought to be “who cares?” rather than “The democrats are behaving irresponsibly, they don’t have a mandate, they should scale back their ambitions and compromise, etc. etc. etc.”

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    • Dude, this was my post.

      Anyways, it’s all well and good that the majority party should set the agenda, but that in no way creates an obligation that the minority party should be willing to agree to the framework of a proposal pushed by the majority. It may well be unfair to accuse the Dems of being irresponsible for refusing to alter that framework, but that’s not the same as saying that the minority party is acting in bad faith if it refuses to negotiate within that narrow framework.

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        • If 59 senators cannot find something to bribe 1 single senator, a senator, I’m sure you’ll agree, is of the basest evil and surely one of the 41 most selfish people on the planet…

          If 59 senators cannot find a way to bribe this one evil, selfish man…

          Well, you’ve sent the wrong 59 guys to Washington.

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              • Why stop there?

                In the constitution of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Poland, there was an institution called the liberum veto. All bills had to pass the Sejm (Parliament) by unanimous consent, and if any legislator voted nay on anything, this not only vetoed that bill but dissolved that legislative session itself. The concept originated in the idea of “Polish democracy”, that any Pole of noble extraction was as good as any other, no matter how low or high his material condition might be. It was never exercised in practice under the rule of the strong Polish royal dynasties, but these came to an end in the mid-17th century, and were followed by an elective kingship. As might be expected, the more and more frequent use of this veto power paralyzed the power of the legislature, and, combined with a string of weak figurehead kings, led ultimately to the partitioning and dissolution of the Polish state in the following century.” — WP

                They had me at “Polish Democracy”.

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      • “It may well be unfair to accuse the Dems of being irresponsible for refusing to alter that framework”

        That’s a good point, I should probably be less harsh on Dems accordingly. It’s just – from my perspective – if the point is to help people, such a seemingly foolhardy insistence on their preferred framework seems to confuse helping others for the sake of others with helping others for the sake of the helpers. than actually helping people.

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        • The argument you seem to be making is that D’s should do things the way R’s want since D’s can’t do it on their own. That is certainly the way I took the bad faith R negations. R’s wanted to dictate the terms of health care because they had just enough votes to block anything. Negotiation has to be a two way street. R’s , it seems to me, never wanted to cooperate, so they essentially said “we’ll go along as you do it our way” not “lets try to get as much of what each think is important.” Instead of aiming for getting as close to a win-win for each side they went with do it solely our way or nothing.

          What could the D’s give the R’s to cooperate? The R’s have already demagogued cost controls, taxes, and spending. So if they are none of those things what can be done? Without some of those things none of the feel good regulations are workable.

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          • No the argument I’m making is 20% of something is better than 0% of something and if you care about helping people, aiming for 90% of what you want and getting 0% helps fewer people than aiming for 50% of what you want and getting 20 or 30 percent, given the realities of legislation.

            My personal view is that “helping people” isn’t as big a reason as Democratic politicians say it is, though it is for their supporters. So they oversell what they say they can deliver in order to get votes and money, then don’t deliver because they won’t be punished as long as they say the right things and (on bills and amendments that won’t go anywhere) vote the right way. IOW I think there’s more theatre here than people give the Democrats credit for.

            I take issue with your characterization of negotiation. It seems to me that bad faith negotiations are when one party has no intention of reaching an accord and the negotiations are a ploy. In this case refusing to negotiate because you disagree with the point of the negotiations is clear and in good faith.

            Also, the point of a negotiation is to get the best possible result for your side, if someone seeks a “win-win” negotiation, it’s not because of virtue or “good faith” it’s because the opposing party’s satisfaction with the result is in their interests.

            I agree with (and have been saying for some time) Mark’s post. That at a fundamental level the base for negotiations were a nonstarter for most conservatives and an offer to haggle over implementation dates and overall costs is only a useful/good faith offer to someone who is willing to negotiate on the degree, which most Republicans weren’t. The only people I’d say acted in bad faith were Michael Enzi and Chuck Grassley, given Snowe’s vote for the Baucus bill, it’s hard to accuse her of bad faith negotiating, considering the negotiations worked.

            You keep saying bad faith, but what part of honest opposition is bad faith? Were anti-war protesters acting in bad faith when they opposed the war and wanted weapons inspectors to have more time?

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            • From Kyle:

              “No the argument I’m making is 20% of something is better than 0% of something and if you care about helping people, aiming for 90% of what you want and getting 0% helps fewer people than aiming for 50% of what you want and getting 20 or 30 percent, given the realities of legislation.”

              An old Jonah Goldberg quote is that liberals will always pass a good solution looking for a great one. They have no belief in incremental progress.

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            • Well I’m an out of touch liberal but I think some of the OMGGGG FASCISM SOCILAISM was bad faith demagoguery although I know people actually believe that.

              I don’t think almost any of the negotiations ever had a chance to succeed because the R’s were never going to agree. Maybe we are just arguing over the number of bad faith negotiations among R’s.

              Again I think what I think it is also bad faith, at some level, to R’s say they agree there are a certain set of problems but never proposing solutions or at least solutions that don’t pass the laugh test. I know some people take seriously any time the “less taxes, less regulation” is deployed. I don’t think R’s will ever go beyond their favorite buzz words to offer solutions.

              It isn’t’ clear to me what 20% of the health care bill can be passed that makes any sense. I know some people think it can just be chopped up so the popular things can be passed and the unpopular things trashed. However that is one of the increasing problems we are having. There is no free lunch. R’s used to be great about pointing that out to restrain the sometimes overenthusiastic proposals of D’s.

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              • When democrats are designing the so-called “laugh test,” that’s hardly a fair metric to use. As long as you continue comparing Republicans/conservatives to Democratic/liberal goals and values, you’re not speaking the same language and that’s great for highlighting how the Republicans come up short on many of the things you value. It’s also great at leading you to misunderstand who doesn’t support your policies, why they don’t support them, and how you can convince them to.

                Sure the GOP would rather not have a Democratic president and majority, and yes, they’ll work to defeat them. However, they and more importantly their constituents have other concerns as well and focusing on the former concerns makes R’s look like bad guys but it doesn’t get them to support your initiatives.

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  4. “But it’s not true when the principal objection from the opposing party’s base is the framework itself, which is precisely what the objection has been here almost from Day One. “

    Of course. This points to an interesting lacuna in liberal psychology. For many liberals, the framework to expand the welfare state is beyond question. It’s like having to explain why your teenage daughter shouldn’t have sex with a dog. You might be able to explain that if you had to, but as a practical matter most people would refuse, because the act of giving such an explanation creates more credibility in the underlying idea more credibility than the parent wants it to have.

    Many liberals essentially perceive health care the same way. They get genuinely angry if pressed to explain why the government should fund other people’s health care. It’s supposed to go without saying. At the same time, they acutely perceive that the possibility of actually enacting this is a rare opportunity that must be taken whenever it occurs. They never seem to be able to process the contradiction.

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  5. “So clearly, the injustice here is in the procedural rules that allow a 41-vote minority to obstruct the will of a clear majority in the Senate.”

    I guess that would have been the injustice if Republicans had had a 41-vote minority. They didn’t. And still, nothing got passed.

    Say what you want about the GOP. It’s obstructionist. It is bereft of ideas. Whatever. The Democrats, with all their ideas and all their momentum and a popular president and a bullet-proof majority managed to enact exactly nothing. they sat around and diddled because it was too late. Wait! Maybe we can hammer this through before Brown takes his seat!

    Might have been a good idea to try that tactic in, say, November.

    I mentioned playing hardball. Has anyone heard harry Ried threaten to take chairmanships away? has anyone heard Obama telling people that he won’t help in November if they don’t fall into line? Me neither.

    For better of worse, if the GOP had a 60-vote majority, they would have faced the same kind of gamesmanship from the 59th and 60th vote. But I am guessing that they would have played hard ball. Really, really hard ball.

    The party has taken heat for this of late, for threatening to purge people who don’t pass some kind of purity test. That loses elections and puts you out of the majority. True enough. But the flip side is what just happened to the Democrats. They had nobody busting heads. So nothing passed.

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  6. From Mark’s post:

    “…if you can pass health care reform with virtually no support from the opposition party, and thus maintain cohesion within your own party, then there’s really no reason to alter the framework to obtain opposing party votes for any reason other than getting some extra political cover. “

    I still believe this is the primary reason Democrats kept advocating for ‘bipartisanship’ throughout this process. And with a 60-vote majority that need for cover seems to signify a lack of confidence in the ideas being advocated for.

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    • The more I think about this quote from Jamelle the crazier it makes me:

      “Last year, Democrats offered Republicans the chance to make their mark on health care reform. Yes, it would happen within a liberal framework, but Democrats were more than willing to compromise and scale down if it meant GOP support.”

      Seriously? And to be fair to Jamelle – I hear this same attitude from most libs. But who the frack are they trying to kid with the faux empathy? Let’s think this through: 60 vote majority, natural high from an Republican ass-whipping in 2008, claims of mandate, etc. What possible reason would they have to try and include Republicans other than political cover? Are we supposed to believe this is some magnanimous gesture of bipartisan goodwill? Puh-lease! And then they get mad that we don’t want to cooperate within a ‘liberal framework’ when there is zero upside for us? It’s laughable.

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  7. One question I have is… why not MAKE them filibuster. I mean, really filibister? Why not try to ram it through and force John McCain or some other guy to sit up there and read Wuthering Heights for 27 hours? How long would they be able to keep it up?

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      • To add to that, by forcing a filibuster, Democrats would have to maintain quorum in the chamber at the opportunity cost of doing other things, primarily fundraising. It’s not as though they couldn’t just use staffers for some time, but it’s the missed meetings and missed fund-raising opportunities that are the big kicker.

        That said, if I were the Democrats’ I’d have done it. I mean what’s the point of other business (that wasn’t done) and fundraising (for a job you’ll keep or not keep based on an economy you don’t control) if you don’t pass healthcare reform? I mean isn’t the point of Democratic political capital to get this done? Hell, I’d have had the DSCC do a filibuster breaking telethon…but oh well. Why try to break a filibuster, when you can complain about how unfair it is while flying back to earn money for being ineffectual?

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    • What Jay said, essentially boiled down to the simplest part you need to have the entire majority party present but not necessarily the entire minority party. So it’s practically impossible to outendure the minority party.

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      • You don’t know until you try. Have a friendly media outlet do a counter of “people who have died from lack of health insurance while Senator X has been reading Wuthering Heights.”

        Then you wait until a teenage girl is denied a bone-marrow transplant because she lacks insurance. You make sure she is the kind of person who WOULD have been covered under the proposed legislation, but isn’t covered because of the Wuthering Heights guy.

        It would help if the parents of the teenage girl are young, good-looking people who go to church a lot. And white.

        Look. That’s just how stuff gets done.

        In the meantime, Obama needs to promise not to campaign for anybody who does not get on board pronto. If there are any people who still resist, he has to commit to supporting primary opponents with money, speeches and other resources. Harry Reid needs to take committee seats away from anyone who flinches. Nancy Pelosi needs to do the same.

        How long can the hardball last? I don’t know. A year or two. then the quest for purity spins out of control and you lose the majority. Like Republicans did. The difference being that they were actually willing to knock heads when required. This has nothing to do with one side being ethical and the other not. It has to do with the system and how it works.

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        • Hey you’re preaching to the choir on that point. I think Obama’s aloof attitude and bipartisanship fetish has severely contributed to the fix he finds himself in now.

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  8. Since the reforms weren’t going to take place for 3 or 4 years, the Dems would have been smart to break the reform down into four smaller parts, including some Republican ideas in each part — because in the beginning, they had a lock on 8 years — they could have passed smaller bills dealing with pre-existing, and being able to keep insurance when you get sick, etc — incrementally, the small bills would likely have had Snowe/Collins-type support, and as the two sides became accustomed to working together, the whole think might have passed in the 4 phases. I would still disgree with it, but the Democrats would probably have gotten their way, as each success pressured te republicans to participate in the next phase.

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    • I basically agree with this assessment. Republicans would have been crazy to refuse to work with the Left on most of the basic stuff. Onthe big ticket items (public option, abortion funding, etc) I honestly think Democrats would have backed off of most because of lack of support. Their hope for those things was always tied to lumping them in with overall reform, not specific public support for those issues.

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  9. “they could have passed smaller bills dealing with pre-existing…”

    Sounds good, but as far as I understand, some of these things CAN’T be taken on as seprate issues. For instance, you can’t just make it illegal to refuse people for preexisting conditions. If so, I would drop my health coverage tomorrow and save myself $1,100 a month. If I ever had need of some medical services that would cost less than the premium for that month, I would simply pay them. If something serious happened, like a car accident that left me with two broked legs and a ton of surgeries, I would apply for coverage after the accident.

    This is what every non-idiotic person would do. And the system would fall apart. As such, you need to couple the pre-existing conditions issue with a mandate or some other kind of regulation protecting the industry from that kind of gamesmanship. So suddenly you have a mandate, forcing people to buy insurance. But some people can’t afford it or simply won’t play along. So you need subsidies to help them pay and punitive measures to keep people in line.

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    • And then, add on some annoying pork to pay off individual senators and some cost saving regulation and a lot of rules about timing and you have the Senate’s HCR bill.

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    • They could have grouped the easiest to pass first, then go for the harder pieces. Doing away with pre-existing could have been coupled with subsidies to pay for the higher price of insurance with a pre-existing condition. Plus, the pre-existing could have been for changing insurance policies, not situationas where gaming the system is evident. The hardest, the mandate for getting insurance, could have been last, with the reasoning of spreading the costs and lowering the price of a policy. None of it would go into effect until the four phases were complete, so you wouldn’t have a period to test the consequences of any one phase.

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  10. As disingenuous as it may have been coming from David Brooks, his comparison with the Iraq War was pretty good.

    If we had debated going into Iraq for a year and only 39% of the American people supported a war. Off year elections swung away from Republicans in New Jersey and Virginia, then in South Carolina (brooks uses Wyoming) a special election is held and an explicitly anti-war Democrat wins…would the people cheerleading for health care (“in our time” – Jay) have suggested President Bush go ahead anyway?

    I would go further in trying to highlight the process problems here and say that circa 2003, if we had polled anti-war protesters, I’m sure you’d find a plurality, if not majority, that favored sanctions on Iraq, found Saddam a danger to us, his people, and the region, and if asked, would you prefer to see a democratic regime in Iraq, would have answered affirmatively.

    There are three things wrong here.
    First, it’s clear that just because people agree on goals, does not mean they’ll agree on methods. It’s possible the Democrats had a mandate to reform health care, but not for how they intended to reform health care.

    Second, opposition to a method is not the same as opposition to the goal. Opposing war to oust a dictator, doesn’t mean you support the dictator. In much the same way that opposing Dodd-Baucus-Reid isn’t opposition to expanding access and affordability to health care.

    Finally, the assumption that because people agree with a few concepts and general goals, they will therefore endorse your plan to achieve them is folly. It gives you a false sense of support and undermines messaging to bring people along with you in appreciating the value of how you achieve something, beyond wider agreement on what you aim to achieve.

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    • Wouldn’t a better comparison be, say, if we were fighting the Iraq War, and popular disgust grew to the point that the GOP lost 35 house seats and 6 senate seats, including in GOP strongholds like Virginia and Montana over it, that maybe they should re-consider it? That example has the empirical advantage that it wasn’t pulled out of my ass.

      IIRC, the Iraq War going in was supported by something like 60-65% of the US public, and it still was a monumentally stupid idea that badly rebounded on the GOP. So, it’s actually a pretty clear indication that a party should think about whether the public will support the results of their plan rather than obsessing over their hatred of the process.

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      • The point of comparisons is to use like things…the point isn’t about the particulars of the Iraq War, the point is to pull an ideological switcheroo, let’s take the same process and substitute policy you don’t like for health care reform, can you see the problems with what you’re arguing now?

        The problem I see with what you’re saying is that parties overestimate how great the results of their plan will be and underestimate drawbacks. The GOP presumed their plan would have the good results they sold a bipartisan consensus of Americans on, it didn’t have those results. Why would anyone assume that the Democrats have a better handle on diving the future than anyone else?

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        • The point of comparisons is to use like things

          Right, and I’d go further and say the point is not to fabricate likenesses between dissimilar things, which was my point. The problem with this whole comparison is that starting the Iraq War was popular and helped the GOP pick up a few seats in 2002, and also wrong and politically disastrous, so the facts of it explicitly disprove the connection, i.e. between momentary polling and rightness and political wisdom, that Brooks is making here.

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          • but fabrication alone doesn’t make analogies and metaphors bad, unless the underlying logic isn’t sound. In fact, not using a real example was meant to avoid looking like my point was to say that democrats are hypocrites.

            I could have used abortion or gay marriage or any number of issues and made the same point, which is why I found your quibbling over Iraq to be not so terribly interesting.

            Polling can be wrong on substance, sure, but it can also be right. The point isn’t to divine some magical political process that guarantees good outcomes. In American history, you can find popularly polled things that worked out well – and unpopular things that didn’t. Brooks isn’t saying, do what the polling is saying. He’s saying the polling could indicate a problem, pay attention to it, don’t ignore it because it’s more convenient to assume it’s the fault of your Snidley Whiplash like opponents. That’s sensible advice, not mindless govern by the polls nonsense. It’s also far more sensible advice than, “pass it anyway because otherwise it’s all been a big waste, or b/c the public doesn’t know what’s in its own good.”

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            • but fabrication alone doesn’t make analogies and metaphors bad, unless the underlying logic isn’t sound

              But the underlying logic isn’t sound when one says that the polling could indicate a problem, and then specifically chooses an example where it didn’t, but then saying we should pretend that it did so that the comparison works. It sounds more like Brooks is trying to prejudice the argument against health care reform by equating it with a known disaster, without even going to the minimal effort of finding a non-imaginary reason for the comparison.

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            • To put it even more simply, remember that 60% of House Democrats and 40% of Senate Democrats voted against the Iraq War Resolution. This was, in point of fact, the ‘polling at 39%’ position at the time. If you’re making this comparison, these are the people you’re actually saying should have been second-guessing themselves at the (not of course, to slight Lincoln Chafee, Ron Paul, and the 5 other house Republicans who voted against it).

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  11. The disagreement I have here is that it makes the assumption that altering the scope of a major proposal rather than adjusting its framework is an inherently worthwile effort at bi-partisanship.

    What can you be proposing here other than minority rule? Surely the basic structure of legislation is a majority prerogative, with (potentially very significant) minority influence on particulars as the necessary check on tyranny. What more can a d(!)emocrat who honestly holds that value demand? Or are you not one — rather truly a r(!)epublican?

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    • The majority can do whatever it wants to do. It can prioritize legislation that maintains party cohesion or it can prioritize legislation that will work or it can attempt to do both. But in no way can the majority party’s decision obligate the minority party to agree to it, not even morally. If the majority wants to pass legislation that takes a vector that is philosophically unacceptable to every member of the minority party because that vector best maintains majority cohesion, that is the majority party’s choice. But let’s not pretend that merely changing the distance traveled on that vector is the sort of compromise that the minority party should automatically be prepared to accept. As I said above, if you honestly believe the problem is X and Y, then a proposal that uses as its principal mechanism more X and Y isn’t ever going to be acceptable to you, no matter how modest X and Y are increased and no matter how much the proposing party believes X and Y are not part of the problem.

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    • Put it this way – if there are two competing proposal vectors, one of which can pass by obtaining 100% support from the majority party and 1% support from the minority party if it is sufficiently watered down and filled with special interest giveaways, and the other of which can pass by obtaining 90% support from the majority party and 15% support from the minority party with only minimal watering down, how do we have minority party rule?

      In this case, the Dems chose to try for the first of those two approaches, but then refused to do the sort of head-cracking of their squishes that Sam discusses above, instead blaming their inability to pass legislation with a super-majority on the minority.

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        • Which is to say, assume mechanisms C-W exist. And that some Republicans would support a combination of them despite it meaning the passing of a shiny, new, BIPARTISAN health bill in the new Democratic president’s first year.

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      • Mark makes an excellent point here which is that it’s a bit unfair to do so much finger pointing at the Right when it’s actually a lack of cohesion in the Democrat ranks that lead to health care reform stalling.

        I’m also thinking of a quote from Megan McArdle here that the Left might want to consider:

        “The next time you are trying to imagine why the people who disagree with you are actively promoting the destruction of all that is good in the universe, grab a soothing cup of mint tea, put your feet up on a comfy pillow, and then close your eyes and imagine what those people would look like campaigning against something that is a very bad idea. 99 times out of a hundred, you’ll find that they look . . . well, exactly like they look when they’re campaigning against your idea. And suddenly the whole thing is no longer so inexplicable, isn’t it?

        I mean, we all know that that’s ridiculous, because you have never in your life been wrong about any major question, or had a bad idea of your own, which is why you are so fabulously wealthy and married to the first person you ever dated, who is even now smiling at you in blissful perfection from the arms of your four flawless children. But they don’t know that, you see. As I think I’ve mentioned, they haven’t met you. They won’t know anything about you until you finally accept that Nobel Peace Prize. So you’ll have to content yourself with understanding that while you, personally, may never be in error, other well meaning people sometimes are. And then still other well-meaning people have to get up off the sofa and point this out, lest they lead the entire nation astray.

        This does not require arguing that the people who oppose you are right. Obviously, if you thought that, they wouldn’t be opposing you. It just requires a little more empathy, a little less tribalism.”

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          • Are you kidding me? Those people are actively promoting the destruction of all that is good in the universe. You should know better than to even speculate whether they are capable of the nuance required to appreciate that quote.

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            • Well if you write about not demonizing other people and trying to listen to what they say but only aim it at one side then what else is there to say. I do remember all the teeth gnashing on the right about the OBAMAGHITLERSOCILAISMOBAMAISAMUSLIM. Yeah people get overheated on all sides, so maybe everybody should chill a bit. Hell people are free to just complain and criticize without every saying how things can be made better, and they shouldn’t be demonized either.

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        • re: lack of cohesion

          That’s exactly what I’m after. It defies sense that just because you are an R, you would absolutely oppose this bill or that just because you are a D you’d be for it. There should be more room for some Dems to get off the bus, because some R’s should be on it. Olympia Snowe, when it came down to it, had no substantive objection to the bill that she said nixed her vote — only to the timing. I suspect there are more R’s like her. Specter said the pressure to be a perfect party of no was immense. Ultimately both parties had perfect or near-perfect cohesion on this (the Dems slightly less so, inevitably, because they currently have a huge tent, or rather a huge party and not big enough a tent). This is not something for us to cheer as a country. We used to have ideologically diverse parties, and bills could be passed.

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  15. From Yglesias over the weekend: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/how-close-were-we-really.php

    “This in turn illustrates the inherent difficulty of qualitative legislative compromise. You can do quantitative compromise—I want $800 billion, but I settle for $600 billion. And you can do horse trading compromise—You want A, I want B, so we do A and B. But qualitative compromise—I want Universal Medicare, you want to “bend the curve” while protecting profits for insurers and drug companies—is really difficult.”

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