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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 .

By Ezra Klein  |  July 17, 2009; 2:41 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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So they're trying to hijack the process and do the GOPers' bidding.

Is it like we've got no one elected on our side calling the shots?

Posted by: leoklein | July 17, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

"self-styled centrists"

ITYM "self-centered stylists."

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | July 17, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Hardball Time!

The four Dems should get more than a strongly worded letter from the leadership.

Vote to end the filibuster that is coming, or else.

What's the or else? Loss of seniority. Loss of committee positons (maybe some obscure do nothing committee). An opponent in the next primary with funding from the DNC. Continuous attack ads in their states from the Dems. Exclusion from the Dem. caucas when key issues are discussed (why allow them into key strategy sessions?). Hummm, what else? Change in senate office space to match their loss of seniority?

Frankly, if they threaten to join the GOP, so what? It does no good to have the majority and not be able to legislate.

Let's start with Ben Nelson. Demonize him, regardless of his threats.

They need to learn that some kinds of middle-of-the-roadism that truly are obstructionist will not be tolerated on keystone issues.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | July 17, 2009 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Obama's PAC is already running attack ads in Nebraska. Nelson's rebuttal is something along the lines of, "people who HOPE to earn more than 350k one day are opposed to this." Uggh. And he still is fighting the public plan, which seems odd to me as I was getting the vibe that that was a settled fight.

Posted by: ThomasEN | July 17, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Why is actually reading significant legislation a bad idea? What's in there that no one's read that you want to get through so fast? Isn't it the Press's responsibility to help prevent Governmental stupidity? Why are being complicit in their incompetence?

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | July 17, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

This is the Democrats version of the Patriot Act but since it's being done by the Democrats this time all of the political hacks on the Left don't seem to mind. This is such blatant hyprocisy?

Posted by: fallsmeadjc | July 18, 2009 12:32 AM | Report abuse

If delay threatens your legislation then the law is crap.

You shouldn't be worried that delay will stop anything worthwhile. Instead, you should be embarrassed for supporting something so bad that it has to be rammed through Congress before the public gets a chance to respond to it.

You're not a journalist, Ezra, you're a shill.

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | July 18, 2009 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Yep, it's the democratic version of the approach to the Iraq war. It must be done now, now, this minute, yesterday, or the sky will fall. No questions, no looking around, nothing nothing nothing. My will be done.

On another though related subject, does no one find Ted Kennedy's response to his own disease, well, old school? In line with our new thinking, he could have said look, I am 75 and have lived a rich life. I haven't taken the best care of my body, so spending millions and millions preserving me might not be appropriate. Yes, I want to be treated. I want to live. But the extraordinary resources, the no holds barred approach should be used on some youngster who has been tragically diagnosed with the same disease. Instead, he summoned, at the cost of millions, the nation's leading specialists to his bedside , to determine how he could best be saved. Reports have it that he has offered a fortune to any doctor who thinks he can prolong his life.

Posted by: truck1 | July 19, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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