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.
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.