The Delay Caucus
For all that Ron Wyden has some very good ideas, he's keeping some strange company these days. He's co-signed a letter with Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Joe Lieberman and Mary Landrieu that advocates "taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result" on health-care reform.
That is to say, it advocates nothing at all. There are no specific policies advocated in this letter. Nothing about MedPAC or comparative effectiveness or the public plan. A "bipartisan result," in this context, is a curiously hollow concept: It's simply a vote that includes Democrats and Republicans. A bipartisan result could be achieved tomorrow if Collins and Snowe decided to vote for the final bill. Or it could fail in a month if Collins and Snowe decide not to vote for the final bill. Time is not a variable that's correlated with bipartisanship. Quite the opposite, in fact. The longer health-care reform stretches on, the more Republican opposition we're seeing. That's to be expected. Things become more partisan, not less, as the special interests and grassroots of both sides have time to pressure their legislators.
This is not an unknown dynamic. It's why Republican consultant Alex Castellanos centered his latest memo around slowing down the health-care bill. "If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it," he wrote. The key message, he said, is "SLOW DOWN the OBAMA EXPERIMENT WITH OUR HEALTH.” Emphasis his. There's even a graphic:
Delay, in other words, is a lot of things, but one of those things is a Republican tactic. Which makes it even weirder to see delay also sold as a key portion of a bipartisan bill.
What's interesting about this letter, however, is that it's not very bipartisan at all. It's four senators who caucus with the Democrats and two who caucus with the Republicans. To put it slightly differently, this isn't about partisanship: It's about six senators who think themselves in the middle of health-care reform trying to position themselves as power brokers in advance of the final vote. Nelson, Collins, Snowe, and Lieberman have experience with this, as most of us remember from the stimulus bill. Landrieu and, particularly, Wyden, are more recent converts.
But I'd advise people to ignore the language of bipartisanship here and think a bit more in terms of game theory. As health-care reform neared its big vote in the Senate, there was always going to be a group of self-styled centrists who arose to exert maximal impact in the final days of the bill. The six senators signed onto this letter are making that play. The question is what they want in return for their support. And that's where things get tricky and, not coincidentally, very vague.
The full letter follows the jump.
Dear Senators Reid and McConnell:
In the current debate about our health care system, we are firmly committed to enactment of comprehensive reform this year. That reform must reduce premiums and administrative costs, expand choices, and increase coverage for all Americans. We are eager to work constructively with Senate leadership and agree that this is an historic opportunity which makes it imperative to proceed thoughtfully and responsibly. Our efforts will affect virtually every American.
The American people expect us to adopt comprehensive health reform that addresses the priorities we have outlined without detrimentally affecting those who have health insurance or increasing the national debt. This week, Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf testified that the currently introduced health reform bills will not reduce costs. We are faced with the dual challenges of pressing ahead to pass legislation by the end of the year and to produce the reform the American people need.
We appreciate the work that has been done by Senators on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Finance committees, but in view of the Budget Director’s statement, there is much heavy lifting ahead. We support the efforts of Finance Committee members to produce a bipartisan bill, despite calls from both sides of the aisle to rush forward or delay indefinitely. While we are committed to providing relief for American families as quickly as possible, we believe taking additional time to achieve a bipartisan result is critical for legislation that affects 17 percent of our economy and every individual in the U.S.
We look forward to working with you to develop legislation that is vital to the well-being of the American people and urge you to resist timelines which prevent us from achieving the best result. This opportunity is rare and the impact will last for generations.
Photo credit: Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post Photo .
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