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Is Bipartisanship Breaking Down on Health-Care Reform?

PH2009070401086.jpgAccording to Roll Call, Harry Reid has sent Max Baucus a pretty strong message: Stop letting Lucy hold the football. The Republicans, Reid said, are not going to vote for health-care reform in large numbers. And the concessions necessary to attract Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe would probably result in the loss of 10 or 15 Democrats.

The story doesn't say this, but the likely concessions would also have another effect: They would make the bill less appealing to the public. Taxing employer health benefits, which I support, is a wildly unpopular idea. So too is eliminating the public insurance option, which commands large majorities in polling (much larger majorities, actually, than health-care reform as a whole). A bipartisan bill, in other words, will probably attract three to four Republicans, and in return, sacrifice a half-dozen Democrats, demoralize the liberal base and create a plan that's harder to sell to the public. It's hard to imagine the cost-benefit calculus that could bring those sides of the ledger into balance. The point of the legislative process isn't your relationship with Lucy. It's winning the game (where the game is good policy, and winning is passing your bill, and oh no, I've become Sarah Palin).

On a slightly different note, make sure to read that Roll Call article carefully. Toward the end, it becomes clear that either the primary source for this story or one of the primary sources for this story is a Democratic Senate staffer who doesn't want this to happen and is leaking the strategy to the press to disrupt it. “The demands Reid is putting on some Democrats is going to make it harder for other Democrats to support this," the unnamed source says. "Going the partisan route doesn’t get this bill done any faster.” This article, in a sense, is not simply a look at Reid's thinking. It's a warning from the centrists.

Photo credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 8, 2009; 11:02 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: The Long-Term Politics of Health-Care Reform


Asking people if they want free healthcare from the Government is not a legitimate poll. If you polled a statistically significant number of people and asked them if they wanted a million dollars they would all say yes but that doesn't mean that a responsible legislator should vote to give everyone a million dollars.

Any legitimate polling question should include the stipulation that a public option would mean higher taxes, lower economic growth and a significant increase in unemployment from the gradual destruction of the private insurance industry that, by the way, directly and indirectly employs a lot more people than GM and Chrysler.

Do you want the good sides of my bill? Yes? Well, okay, let's do it! I have a mandate from the people!!

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | July 8, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Oh dear! What will David Broder say!

Posted by: Castorp1 | July 8, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

@fallsmeadjc: Last week Kaiser released a summary of polling results on people's willingness to pay for expanded coverage. Not surprisingly, what people's opinion is depends on how you ask the question. For example, if you ask whether people would be willing to pay as much as $500 per year or more in taxes to expand coverage, a majority of people say "no." And not surprisingly, most people would want taxes raised only for those who make over $250,000 per year.

The paper is found at this link:

Posted by: Policywonk14 | July 8, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

[checks brass knuckles, rubber hose, and balance of ad account for whipping anti-healthcare lawmakers]

Write this message in the DC sky: Don't presume automatic votes from progressives for non-progressive laws.

Second message slipped in lawmaker's bed along with the horse head: We are watching you. (signed: progressives and public).

fallsmeadjc: Please cite one voice among the advocates of strong legislation for reform (including strong public option) that EVER said healthcare would be free. Can't cite? Then stop being a lying fearmonger.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | July 8, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

"bipartisanship" = rope-a-dope. Glad to hear Reid, having learned this a bit, is now acting on it a bit.

Posted by: bdballard | July 8, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

fallsmeadjc: according to an independent analysis, a strong public option would reduce the overall cost to our economy by $58B:

Lower cost to the economy would lead to stronger growth, not lower. The health insurance industry does not provide any care, only increased inefficiency and cost.

Are you employed by the health insurance industry? If so, you should have disclosed this fact.

Disclosure: I am retired, with union-negotiated health insurance (I pay half for my coverage, the company pays half).

Posted by: wapowa | July 8, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Please do not refer to Senators who are well to the right of the American public as "centrists." They are conservative Democrats.

Posted by: jbrians | July 8, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

The overwhelming support for a public option (public insurance plan) isn't so naive as guessed above.

Everyone intuitively understands already that a public plan must be basic, limited, or else its costs are impossible to maintain over time.

So, like public education, but cheaper: basic, universal, limited, inclusive.

Better than public education though, you can simply buy a private supplemental insurance plan to add on top of your public plan benefits. So you don't actually pay for something you don't benefit from, if you prefer private plans.

More explicit detail:

It's all about costs, over time. Getting a better system.


Posted by: HalHorvath | July 8, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Have any of you supporters of a public option ever compared it with Medicare for All (HR676)? A public option which keeps for profit insurers gives up the $500 Billion a year we would save by the elimination of these parasites and lowering drug prices. HR676 pays for itself; a public option adds cost.

Posted by: lensch | July 8, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

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