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The White House's Definition of Bipartisanship


Big news out of the Senate this morning, where the Health Committee has passed its bill on a party-line vote. For some background on the bill -- I haven't read the new amendments, so certain parts of this might be out of date -- see this post. But for the importance of this vote, see this Bloomberg article, in which Rahm Emmanuel argues that the HELP process was, in fact, a bipartisan effort as the White House defines it.

That may seem counterintuitive. After all, not a single Republican voted for the final bill. But the White House is saying that the measure of bipartisanship is not the attainment of Republican votes, but the inclusion of Republican ideas. “That’s a test of bipartisanship -- whether you took ideas from both parties,” Emanuel told Bloomberg. “At the end of the day, the test isn’t whether they voted for it.” The HELP bill contains dozens of Republican amendments and so is, according to Emmanuel, a sufficiently bipartisan effort, at least as the White House defines such things.

I wouldn't underplay the importance of this comment: If Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins think that the White House will not accept a health-care reform bill that is passed without their votes, they have a lot of bargaining power over the final shape of the bill. But what the White House is saying, in effect, is that their votes are not that important. If 60 Democrats break the filibuster, some Republican amendments are accepted, and 57 Democrats vote to pass a strong final bill, that is, to the White House, a perfectly acceptable outcome. In fact, it's a preferable outcome than if 63 senators vote to break the filibuster, some Republican amendments are accepted, and three Republicans join with 60 Democrats to pass a weak final bill.

Photo credit: Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  |  July 15, 2009; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: Speaking of Republican Amendments to the Senate Health Bill


Orwellian bipartisanship: If you can't get Republicans to sign off on your work, at least claim that they helped do it. Good cover.

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | July 15, 2009 11:22 AM | Report abuse


did you watch the HELP committee. There were i expect hundreds of hundreds of ammendments and about 20 were accepted and as the Senator from Alaska pointed out in their press conference they basically were those dealing with Indian tribes.

An ammendment that was proposed by Republicans and rebuked by Democrats?

One that forced federal employees onto the public plan.

If its SOOO good to Democrats why not put Teddy Kennedy on it right now.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 15, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

If having the government fund health care is such a bad idea, why not drop all the Republican Senators from their government funded health insurance and let them buy it on the open market.

Posted by: mjames2 | July 15, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

It's clear that republicans don't want to do anything about the health care reform. To them there is no need for reform. In fact, they have more to gain by being against it that by voting for it. If they vote for it they don't gain anything. If they vote against it they can go back to their conservative state and tout their conservative credentials and how they're again big gov., running up deficits....

Posted by: thor2 | July 15, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Thank God. For some reason, the word "bipartisanship," while once so appealing, has started to make me twitch every time I read it. It's just impossible to partner and work with a party who is not trying in good faith to enact any meaningful, helpful measures to fix our most serious problems. But Rahm's sentiments on this make me feel better, along with those new Organizing for America ads that just came out.

Posted by: ErininAtlanta | July 15, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

See as how the Republican party has abandoned it's moderate members I think this new definition of bipartisan is good enough.

Posted by: RedBird27 | July 15, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Although its been pretty difficult to find out what the "final" (?is there one yet) proposal for the health care bill is, this is what I have gleaned from the press:

80 percent or so of Americans have some kind of health care, this plan will increase this coverage about 17 percent to 97 percent.

This percentage increase includes undocumented aliens and the currently uninsured (to included the unemployed) but does not include the poor and elderly (no numerical definition of who these are but basically no one covered under medicare and medicaid).

This plan will cut medicare and medicaid payments and coverage. The new plan emphasis is away from those already covered by govt insurance programs.

If you opt out of taking govt insurance (unsure if this includes your current private insurance or is just about those currently not insured but I would think it means the former) then you will pay 2.5 percent of your annual income to "opt out".

If you make more than $280,000 as a single person or $340,000 as a family you will pay some percentage perhaps .6 percent of your income into the program. If you make over 1 million you will pay 5.4 percent (or maybe lower this number has fluctuated, it was 6.5 percent and 7.2 percent before these last discussions).

If you are an employer you will pay 8 percent of your income (not profit, income)to support this plan. If you are a micro business (not a small but micro-business) and have an income of under $300,000 you will not need to pay into the plan.

Please tell me how this plan is good--if implemented I will either need to offer up $2350 a year to keep my current plan (my part of 2.5 percent) or hope that adding 17 percent more people who don't pay to the system I currently use doesn't make the system even worse then it is.

My 84 year old mother will not see an improvement; will the Medicare and Medicaid doctors be the ones to take the increase or must all doctors share?

My children and the four children will not see an improvement as they make just a little too much money to get a proposed but not yet approved "family reduction" (for those who make 400 percent or less of poverty standard--that's about $88,000 a year). However, being unemployed would give them immediate access to what ever this plan might be.

Posted by: mil1 | July 15, 2009 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Senate Dems are going to need a few Repubs to get to 60 if they can't get Kennedy or Byrd into the chamber to vote, which is very possible. Plus you've got Ben Nelson and Mary Landreiu out there, and arms will need to be twisted in order to reach cloture...or they can vote for cloture and vote against the bill, which is Reid's big goal, just getting 60 cloture votes.

Can this happen before August 7th? I give it about a 30 percent chance right now.

Posted by: AnnandaleAnnie | July 15, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Hey Visionbkr,

Kennedy voted FOR the Coburn Amendment to put all members of Congress and their staff on the public option and the Amendment passed. So you got your wish. I doubt a mea culpa will be coming any time soon, but you're welcome for setting the record straight for you.

Posted by: SWB2 | July 15, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Annandale Annie, that isn't the way it works. Byrd and Kennedy can vote by proxy, so there don't need to be any flips to block a filibuster. Do you really think that the Dems will sit with the Repubs on the filibuster to deny an up-or-down vote on the issue? Get real. Nelson will bring it to the floor and vote against it, but at the point it will only need 50 votes for passage.

Posted by: SWB2 | July 15, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

The richest 2 million U.S. taxpayers - which own the businesses and corporations --- should immediately slash their payrolls, to make up for any lost income.

Posted by: hclark1 | July 15, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

SWB2: Drinking at lunch? Byrd and Kennedy do indeed have to vote on the Senate floor in person. "In 1975, the majority required for invoking cloture on most matters, including nominations, was
changed from two-thirds of Senators present and voting to three-fifths of the full membership of the Senate (normally 60)."

They can vote by proxy in committee, but not on the Senate floor.

Committee on Rules and Administration, Senate Cloture Rule, pp. 30-32, 53-54, 119-121.

Posted by: AnnandaleAnnie | July 15, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I love reading these comments at times. Of particular interest is the one where the Republicans are against reform. How far from the truth! HSA's were put in by Bush and serious reform was discussed by Republicans on the distorting tax treatment of health insurance. What we could say is the Democrats are against ANY reform that offends there key constituencies.

Posted by: jfweissMD | July 15, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

Bipartisanship can't be the goal, if reform is. It's been more like the curb on the route to the goal.

Posted by: jhbyer | July 15, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

mil1's lengthy (unsupported) conjectures reflect the standard Con approach to anything -- anything -- Obama and most Democratic legislators try to achieve on behalf of the large majority of American citizens. In the case of health care "reform", some 70+ percent of us have asked for exactly this kind of bill.

That said, it's a bit early for mil1 to begin fortune telling. If the Senate passes this version, it still has to be reconciled with the House bill. Then we'll know what goes up for Obama's consideration. Plenty of time then for the Cons to toss out their bogus numbers and wild assumptions.

Posted by: GalapagoLarry | July 15, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse


The healthcare reform bill released by the House Of Representatives is an excellent bill as I understand it. It is carefully written, and thoughtfully constructed, informed, prudent and wise. This bill will save trillions of dollars, and millions of your lives.

This is the type of bill that all Americans can feel good about. And this is the type of bill that has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of healthcare for all Americans. Rich, middle class and poor a like. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and all other party affiliations. This bill has the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life of every American.

The house healthcare bill should be viewed as the minimum GOLD STANDARD by which all other proposed healthcare legislation should be judged. All supporters of true high quality healthcare reform should now place all your support behind this healthcare reform bill released by the United States House Of Representatives, as the minimum Gold standard for healthcare reform in America.

You should all now support this bill with all your might, and all of your unrelenting tenacity. This healthcare bill is a VERY, VERY GOOD! bill for all of the American people. Fight tooth, and nail for every bit of this bill if you have too. Be aggressive, creative, and relentless for this bill.

AND FIGHT!! like your life and the lives of your loved ones depends on it. BECAUSE IT DOES!



God Bless You

Jack Smith — Working Class

Posted by: JackSmith1 | July 15, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse


there will be no mea culpa because I'm not wrong.

It wasn't Kennedy obviously as he's been out the entire time with his illness. As mentioned since many votes were done by proxy. And when I watched online at when Coburn argued for it a Democrat spoke up (forget exactly who) and immediately said that we wouldn't force people on it so why would the senators be forced to it. The point of the matter is that if its SOOO GOOD why not put Kennedy who is dying on it. its because its not that good.

And yes AnnandaleAnnie is right and you are wrong. You can vote by proxy in committee but not on the floor. that's why you see all this voting by proxy in committees because they are voting on the senate floor while this is going on.

I'll wait for your mea-culpa.

And yes HSA's have been around for years, not many people have them even though they go up year after year much less than standard "cadillac" plan because of utilization" and "consumerism" forcing people to be aware of what their healthcare dollars cost.

Posted by: visionbrkr | July 15, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

The definition of a bipartisan Health Reform proposal is one where half of independent voters feel the plan is fair and will succeed in the long term (many open minded Republicans will concur).

The current House version of Health Reform meets that test!!!

It doesn't need any congressional Republican votes.

President Obama should Trust in the wisdom of American people ... not the "power brokers" in the Republican party.

Posted by: cautious | July 16, 2009 4:50 AM | Report abuse

"bipartisan" is a smarmy way of saying the Dems caved again. It's all semantics. I don't understand how anyone could be against affordable health care. But Republicans are. So--let's all send emails to all the Democratic senators and tell them that if they cave on this, they'll be out of a job next time they run. I'll finance any Dem who runs against them, and if we all do that, we'll win.

And make Max Baucus your special target. Not only did he take over $1 million dollars from private insurers and pharma, he's using the Republicans to cover his butt by saying he has to be bipartisan.

Baucus needs to change parties and join the me first party of no.

Posted by: laraine2 | July 16, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

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