Is There Any Depth of Support for Wyden-Bennett?

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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35 Responses

  1. E.D. Kain says:

    Great post, Mark. It is odd that so many people take Ezra at his word (and Yglesias, for that matter). I agree – I think there is a lot more support and potential support for W/B. Especially if it emerges as the compromise that saves reform.Report

  2. Dan Miller says:

    Mark–I think this would have a lot more credibility if it weren’t for history. Every time Democrats have tried to reform health care, it’s been greeted with “this will be their Waterloo” or the nearest equivalent; it’s been mercilessly demagogued with this crap about euthanasia for the elderly; it’s been treated as a political football, and not as a flawed attempt at a shared goal (i.e. universal coverage).

    Given that history, I’m not sure why you expect Democrats to play Charlie Brown kicking the football. Why would they propose a plan that does, unfortunately, piss off a key Democratic constituency (not to mention incite massive resistance from the insurance industry), on the hope that maybe this time it will get a few Republican votes? There needs to be a more credible commitment, and that kind of credibility can only be built up over time. It certainly can’t be assumed into existence on the backs of a few cosponsors and a mixed review from the Heritage Foundation.

    Frankly, if Republicans want to be trusted on Wyden-Bennett, the first moves will have to come from them. It’s asking way, way too much to call the Dems unreasonable for not being very trusting this time.Report

    • But this just isn’t true. Yes, 1994, they got demagogued to death – but what was proposed in 1994 was blatantly unpalatable to conservatives in any way shape or form. Meanwhile, Nixon pushed hard for national health insurance, but couldn’t get anywhere because it didn’t go far enough for liberals at the time; granted this was over the objections of good chunks of his own party, but that’s not the point. The point is that Democrats simply refused to give any consideration to good-faith proposals put forward by the other party.

      Hell, this isn’t even about trusting the Republicans as a group. Wyden-Bennett wouldn’t need the support of the majority of Republicans if it came to a vote – it would just need enough to overcome the opposition of labor Democrats, which, while significant, is not even a majority of Democrats.

      Look, I’ve spent the last 2 years often complaining about the way in which conservatives pretend that Democrats and liberals are monolithic. What I see in this discussion is liberals and Democrats doing precisely the same thing – treating Republicans and conservatives as monolithic.Report

      • Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        For about 15 years now, the Republican Party has been largely monolithic. And for the entirety of the Obama Administration thus far, they have been just about uniformly opposed to anything the Democrats have tried to do. Maybe I’m just assuming the worst about the other guys, but I don’t think it’s without cause. The Republicans have presented basically zero reasons why anyone should trust them. If they wanted me to believe they were good-faith partners, they had a stimulus bill and a Supreme Court nomination on which to demonstrate that. They manifestly did no such thing.Report

      • Dan Miller in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Mark–when the Republicans took over in 1994, did any of them come back and offer up a more acceptable plan to achieve universal coverage? No. As for Nixon, that was 1972–well before the emergence of the modern Republican party. I’ll have more on this later, rest assured ;). But in the end, I just don’t think the GOP holds universal coverage as a priority, and so I’m not sure I see a road for them to compromise.Report

        • If you’re going to ignore 1972-1973 (and there’s a strong case to be made that the Nixon years had a pretty close relationship to the modern GOP, homages to Goldwater notwithstanding), then that leaves us with a sample size of exactly one, which is a poor basis for making conclusions, particularly when the 1994 attempt was truly a nonstarter for Republicans.

          And while you’re probably correct that the GOP doesn’t view universal coverage as a priority, that’s very different from saying that it is an automatic dealbreaker for the GOP or even that opposing it is a high priority for the GOP. The central aspect of Wyden-Bennett from a conservative/GOP perspective is going to be the fact that it decouples employment and health care. Whether its other elements would overcome support for that central aspect would depend on the particular politician at issue.Report

  3. Clint says:

    Worth noting that the use of budget reconciliation (which, depending on how negotiations go in September, is increasingly likely) would make Senate GOP support irrelevant and would require only 50 votes for passage…Report

    • Ryan in reply to Clint says:

      Count me opposed. You can’t use reconciliation to set up any regulatory framework (it’s only for strictly budgetary items), and there is no point in making the Senate even more poisonous than it already is. Far more useful would be simply discarding the filibuster (which also isn’t happening).Report

  4. Clint says:

    I’m very much opposed as well. A couple of worrisome signs though:

    1. The springtime budget resolution contained reconciliation instructions for both Obama’s student lending proposal and health care, meaning the option is very much at the Majority’s disposal absent a breakthrough before October 15. This is very much Plan B for health care reform this year and, absent a breakthrough, could easily become Plan A.

    2. The writer of the Byrd rule (which limits the use of reconciliation to budgetary issues) resides in the Democratic caucus. While he objected to Clinton’s attempted use of reconciliation for health care, perhaps 16 years without reform have softened his stance. This is, of course, not to mention the fact that the Democratic-appointed Parliamentarian interprets reconciliation under the Byrd rule.

    2. Recent unusual parliamentary steps by the Majority to includeReport

  5. Jaybird says:

    I am opposed as well. Gridlock yesterday, gridlock today, gridlock FOREVER!!!!

    (Also, someone stole something from my kid this morning right out of the baby buggy. Does anyone have any leads?)Report

  6. North says:

    I’m a cynic myself Mark but spoken in purely political terms it doesn’t make sense. The Democrats have no incentive to enrage some of their core constituents in hopes of possibly garnering republican support for a bill that Republicans would like more. It is really not encumbent on the majority to cater to the Republicans in that manner. If the Republicans had held up Wyden-Bennett and pushed for that as a cheif alternative I would be singing a different tune but they did not. Their response to the Democrat proposals was to advocate a continuation of the status quoe and to hurtle accusations of forced termination of the elderly etc… The fact of the matter is that the Republicans have not comported themselves as an honorable opposition. They’ve been doing nothing but obstruct and demonize ever since the election.

    That said, if the Democrats suddenly decided to abandon their current bill and support Wyden-Bennett I’d be thrilled. I just don’t consider it likely and I don’t feel that the Dems are cupable for Wyden-Bennett sitting idle.Report

    • Mark Thompson in reply to North says:

      I don’t really disagree with this, except to the extent that you’re saying that it’s incumbent on the Republicans to push this. I think the leadership of both parties is equally at fault, and yet acting equally rationally. What the Republicans are doing right now in terms of generally sandbagging is more or less understandable and to be expected given the size of the Dem majorities right now. That doesn’t make it right – but it does make it precisely what one would expect from a party in such an overwhelming minority.

      It’s also understandable and to be expected that the Dem leadership is doing the complete opposite – pushing for legislation that is palatable to all of their interest groups and refusing to push legislation that isn’t, no matter how well that legislation would actually work.

      The problem is that in pushing only legislation that is palatable to all key Dem constituencies, the Dems are left in a situation where no legislation that they push is going to be remotely palatable to any but the most centrist Republicans, of whom there are going to be precious few since the destruction of the GOP in recent years has left it with only a handful of seats from truly “swing” districts and states, and even fewer seats from “swing” districts and states where it’s possible to win a primary without the support of movement conservatives.

      My wager is that if Wyden-Bennett were ever put to a vote, the leadership of both parties would vote against it, while a sizable majority of the remaining members would vote for it. The problem is that the party leadership controls what does and does not get through committee, to say nothing of what does and does not get pushed in the press (which is probably the more important power).

      I guess what I’m saying is this: just because it’s completely appropriate and accurate to be despondent and cynical about the actions of party leaders doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate and accurate to be despondent and cynical about what back-benchers would do if given a chance to overcome their party leaders.Report

      • Ryan in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        This is actually why I think the most important thing liberals and conservatives should be out on the streets holding hands over is procedural reform. Rebuild the committee structure, end the filibuster, etc. There are many things we could do that would make the Congress – especially the Senate – more responsive to actual voters and less beholden to special interests. And, for my money, they’re way more important than health insurance reform, cap-and-trade, or whatever.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to North says:

      I don’t feel that the Dems are cupable for Wyden-Bennett sitting idle.

      To take up Mark’s side for a moment, the Dems are certainly partly culpable — they’re the majority, for cry-yei! (You probably meant not solely culpable, which I think we all would agree with.)

      But the point is, they have really pretty fair reasons for it, if you allow some amount of political reality to be accepted as legitimate. We’ve discussed it, but they’d have to backstab labor (which would be like asking the next Republican president to nominate someone pro-choice for the Court), and Wyden-Bennett really would be a heavy lift politically in general at this point in any case. People like “If you like what you have, you can keep it,” and won’t appreciate being told that their health insurance arrangement has rested until now on what has been deemed an undeserved or at least unwise tax exemption (we pseudo-wonks take that as a commonplace, but I’d put general familiarity with that fact among the employer-covered public at, I don’t know, 15%? …25%?), and we’re going to be taking that away now, thank you very much, so you should probably start thinking about what you’re going to do when you employer stops offering coverage in the very near future. That’s not a good policy argument against it, but politically, uff-da!Report

      • North in reply to Michael Drew says:

        And also Yes to Michaels point.

        Sad as it is, principles aside, Democrats would get absolutely flattened in the polls by Wyden-Bennett. Labor would be livid and the vaux populi would be almost as angry as labor. Even were they inclined towards Wyden-Bennett I have no doubt that the Dem Leadership would not touch it for that reason alone. Heck they haven’t moved on DADT even though it’s got a 75% backing to be repealled.Report

  7. Michael Drew says:

    any remaining Republican support whatsoever would significantly undercut the power of the Blue Dogs to water down Wyden-Bennett in the way they have watered-down HR 3200

    The Blue Dogs would not be the issue. What you’re ignoring is that Wyden-Bennett would lose significant numbers of Dems, perhaps enough to kill it, bit if not certainly enough to put the Republicans in the driver’s seat. Why would Pelosi stab labor in the back just to get to that scenario?Report

    • You’re right about that. In my defense, that sentence was trying to convey what I thought when I first read that Klein post awhile back, not what I think now. Later in this post, I tried to suggest that I now recognize that the problem would be with Midwestern Democrats (who tend to have closer ties to Big Labor) and the Dem leadership (which likewise can’t afford to anger the unions). Coastal (and maybe Mountain West) Democrats outside of the leadership, though, can afford to cross labor unions in a way that Midwestern Democrats can’t.

      Still, I’m wagering that if it came to a vote, a majority of Dems and a sizable minority of Republicans would vote “Aye.” The problem is, of course, that you’re never going to get a vote if the leadership of neither party can afford to allow it to go to a vote.

      This post is more or less explicitly assuming that this obstacle will be overcome (even though I’ll be the first to admit that it has not a snowball’s chance in hell of being overcome). I’m more trying to question the cynicism that says not only will Wyden-Bennett never come to a vote, but it’s not even worth trying to get the leadership to push for a vote on it since the Republicans who say they’d support it never actually would. I guess I’m just frustrated by the notion that, when Dem leaders act cynically on behalf of constituent interest groups, it’s totally excusable since they’re just behaving the way that rational politicians act, but when Republican back-benchers act in a commendable way, it’s because they’ve got ulterior motives such that those commendable actions should not be supported.

      My point, ultimately, is just that I think it’s a big mistake to treat health care reform as a battle between good, if flawed, Democrats, evil conservatives and Republicans, and nearly as evil Blue Dog Democrats. In reality, the real problem is the disconnect between the interests of political leadership and those of semi-principled back-benchers.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        I’m not for demonizing anyone, except those who quite clearly ask for it (Obama = Hitler types). I will, as I hope everyone will, always express strong disapproval for actions I strongly disapprove of, however, and be skeptical about motives where I deem it appropriate.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Also, I’m not sure I buy your notion that leadership are evil and backbenchers in both party good. It seems like more undemonstrated conjecture to be honest. Don’t leaders hew pretty closely to what rank-and-file will swallow, the better to stay on as leaders? It’s a rare leader who has her way with the rank and file against their interests time and again and stays (a.) leader (b.) of the majority for long, it would seem to me. There aren’t very many LBJs.Report

        • I should probably clarify. I’m not trying to portray leadership as evil or backbenchers as generally good. Instead, I’m just trying to point out that there are widely divergent incentives amongst individual politicians even within the same party. I also don’t think that what the leadership of each party is doing here is necessarily at odds with their backbenchers’ interests; instead, they’re pursuing strategies that try to keep the interests of most of their caucus aligned with the interest of their party as a whole. The trick is to find a way of separating those interests – hence the reason why procedural reforms are ultimately so important.Report

  8. Michael Drew says:

    Mark’s position really is clear enough — no to reform at this time in this way. The other person who posts on health care here is E.D. I am not entirely clear where he stands on HR 3200. I get the feeling he wants to support reform, but can’t support that, and so wants to focus on what he can support, no matter how dead it seems to be at this point. While I understand and sympathize with his dilemma, I’d like to suggest that it would serve the debate if he would accept the rmifications of the position (I think) he holds (no on HR 3200). Then we could really pretty much just proceed on the basis that this site is pretty much clearly against health reform as offered by this Congress, at least until other contributors start weighing in with other viewpoints. I think that would be healthy, though I’m not in charge. But clarity is good, and that is pretty much what’s going on in my view. Understood, there are alternatives people here support, even ones with “bipartisan” support (majorities tend to be more useful in passing legislation), but they’re not doable at this time. Yes, that’s absolutely in part because a dominant constituency of the majority in Congress would see that reform pass over their dead bodies, and there isn’t sufficient public support for the proposal to trump that. (In fact, it would be a heavy lift in terms of selling it to the public even if it didn’t undercut a powerful constituency.)
    But those are familiar, legitimate, time-honored reasons why certain legislation doesn’t become law, not some perversion of the political process. There are all sorts of rational proposals that aren’t even considered because they affect powerful interests. Politics is the art of the possible, and if you want to changes what’s possible, then you gotta reform the politics. For now, if you want to reform health, you gotta work with the politics as they exist.

    So folks here are against what’s on offer. That’s okay! That’s a completely legit position. I can work with that. I say lets accept it, be clear about it, and try to start un-muddying the waters about it, because it brings debate back around to what’s really happening in the world. I think that would improve the quality and germaneness of the discussion here. Just one dude’s opinion, though.Report

    • E.D. Kain in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I think if you asked Freddie, or maybe Scott, or perhaps Jamelle you might get an entirely different position on this, though there hasn’t been much out of our more liberal (or Canadian) posters on Health Care. I can only speak for myself though, and I’d say you fairly capture my take on all of this.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        You’re quite right. There are obviously many others who post here, and I’d be interested to hear what have to say. That would be have been better directed generally to people here or elsewhere engaged in this discussion about Wyden-Bennett vis a vis the main bill. And it’s an opinion only; I’m not claiming that it’s self-evident that the debate should move in that direction.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

      This shouldn’t be read as a call for anyone to stop advocating for those reforms that they support. By all means, keep pushing for Wyden-Bennett, or parts of it, in hopes that opinion swings in its favor. I just don’t think it’s helpful at this point to be holding out for it in this Congress in a way that obscures debate about what is likely (or not so likely, as also may be the case) to pass. Again — just my opinion.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to mike farmer says:

      Krauthammer has a two-pronged proposal: tort reform and severing the employer-insurance link.

      To the first, the purported role of malpractice liability as a driver of health cost growth has been largely debunked:

      To the second, this is already a topic of hot debate in many places as we speak. For one such place I would refer you to a website with the following url:

      • This is an odd debate, where many people think these ideas recently orginated from blog posts. The problem with government interference in healthcare has been discussed for many years. The weirdest aspect of it all has been the refusal to look at government’s role in the present healthcare problems. Not only do older people not see Medicare as a government program, the proponents for more government involvement don’t acknowledge that government involvement has gotten us to this point where reform is necessary. If we were really looking for solutions, we’d be looking outside government involvement, but no one seems to be concerned about solutions, only which political offering is valid. Everyone thinks of healthcare as a system which only needs the right government engineering to fix it, but healthcare is a service between providers and those who need the service, yet government has inserted itself to the point that simple service between provider and patient is practically impossible — and now government wants to complicate it even further.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to mike farmer says:

          The government is involved, there is no doubt about that, and I certainly can’t prove and don’t claim that it doesn’t contribute to some of the problems.Report

  9. Dan Miller says:

    Related to Michael Drew’s last points, I’d urge people to check out David Frum on what comes next–it’s well worth reading, especially if you think that Republicans will come back with Wyden-Benett or a similar counteroffer.Report