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Chuck Grassley's Dispiriting Bipartisanship

PH2009081403400.jpg

Spent a few hours today as one of the panelist's on Dylan Ratigan's "Morning Meeting." Toward the end of the second hour, Chuck Grassley hopped on the program to talk death panels and bipartisanship. It sounded like bipartisanship dying.

First, Grassley did not speak like Lindsey Graham or Olympia Snowe. He did not come onto the program determined to present a reasonable face and comfort liberals, conservatives and independents alike. Instead, he railed against "government-run health care" and the "Pelosi health-care bill." He talked about bureaucrats and exploding deficits. He sounded like a House conservative giving a stump speech. Grassley presumably leaves his stemwinders behind when he's with the Gang of Six. But this was not a comforting sign. This was not a unifying performance.

Second, Chuck Todd asked Grassley whether he'd vote for the bill if it was a good piece of policy that he'd crafted but that couldn't attract more than a handful of Republican votes. "Certainly not," replied Grassley. Todd tried again, clarifying that this was legislation Grassley liked, and thought would move the ball forward, but was getting bogged down due to partisanship. Grassley held firm. If a good bill cannot attract Republican support, then it is not a good bill, he argued.

Grassley, in other words, is working backward from the votes. If the Gang of Six reaches a compromise that the Senate Republicans don't support, Grassley will abandon that compromise, regardless of the fact that he's the guy who built it. The Gang of Six, in other words, falls apart if it can't assure a vote of 76. Since it seems virtually impossible that such a vote will manifest, it seems similarly unlikely that Grassley will sign his name to the final bill. And Grassley, remember, was willing to say all this publicly. His version of bipartisanship is strikingly partisan.

Photo credit: Steve Pope -- Associated Press Photo .

By Ezra Klein  |  August 17, 2009; 1:34 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Comments

This is a serious question, Ezra: What will it take for the Dems to get real? Anyone with a brain knows the Republicans won't support anything, that their only political goal is to 'break' Obama. Yet the Dems turn over all their power to someone willing to baldly parrot 'death panel' lies.

I don't know how anyone can't be utterly sickened by the Dems, at least the Senate Dems.

Posted by: AZProgressive | August 17, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Who is the greater fool? The fool, or the fool who hammers out a bipartisan agreement with him?

Posted by: constans | August 17, 2009 1:54 PM | Report abuse

By supporting the administration's "bipartisan" incrementalism, Ezra, you've played right into the GOP's hands. You've been punk'd by Grassley.

You've said repeatedly and publicly there would be legislation that would include a public option. Now would be the time to admit the errors in your thinking, how you've misjudged the politics of this debate even as it unfolded before us all.

There will be no healthcare reform this year. The town halls and the death panels were the beginning of the end.

Posted by: scarlota | August 17, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Let's remind ourselves that THERE IS NO REPUBLICAN ALTERNATIVE BILL in either house or senate. Their alternative seems to be 'do nothing'. And they seems united in that view (Snow and Collins in the senate, perhaps excepted.).

So no bill will get Republican votes. Negotiations are not negotiations. Bi-partisan is minority rule.

This is a new view of democracy. Whoever loses an election and is the minority, wins just by being opposed to any majority program. Is there a term for this (besides minority rule, which sounds just ridulous on its face)?.

Autocracy and oligarchy don't quite capture the salience of MINORITY RULE.

How about Devine Right?

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | August 17, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Grassley has now given permission for Obama and Baucus to abandon the foolish attempt at bipartisaanship. If Baucus continues, he faces a revolt from all the Dems except Conrad and may even lose Bingaman, given the demographics of his state.

They need to report something out of copmmittee, even with a bare majority, so the process can continue. Grassley has proven himself to be a thoroughly unreliable partner--and a grumpy old fool to boot. Talk about pulling the plug. The plug should be pulled on this farce so something reasonable with near-universal coverage, serious insurance reform and regulation and some beginnings at cost control. Trigger options are looking better and better.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 17, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

It's ludicrous that Democrats are *negotiating* with Grassley. Or, frankly, pretty much any other Republicans, with the possible exceptions of the Maine duo.

It's great to ask for input from Republicans. But, if the number of votes you get for your legislation is not dependent on the content of the legislation, why not just build the bill exactly as you'd like to build it?

Posted by: davestickler | August 17, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

This isn't minority rule. This is tyranny of the minority - which is ironic since that is what the screamers have been screaming at town hall meetings. At what point does Obama and the Democrats stand up to this and move this country past this ridiculousness? Don't they owe it to everyone who helped get them elected? Don't they owe it to all Americans to actually help this country instead of participating in this nonsense?

In a press briefing last week, Robert Gibbs got fed up with the Fox News correspondent trying to bait him so he eventually said, "Let's go somewhere else that might be constructive." That's what all the democrats should do right now. It will only get worse. And it's all of us that will suffer for it.

Posted by: caed | August 17, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

"If a good bill cannot attract Republican support, then it is not a good bill, he argued."

Ezra, this is the correct definition of bipartisanship. How good can a bill be if it only attracts 3 republicans (i.e. the “stimulus” bill)? Has it been so long since Democrats were on the minority side that they can’t remember what this process is like?

Perhaps it is hard for the current majority in power to remember that almost 60 million Americans voted against Barack Obama and the Democratic platform. Those of us who oppose big government (and there are more than 100 million if surveys are to be believed) deserve representation too. We don’t support the current bills and we are letting our elected representatives know we don’t support them (just like the left and the war protests).

Before the peanut gallery chimes in and accuses those who don’t support current bills of supporting nothing at all, here goes…

Singapore - great healthcare system which merges free market with a public backstop

Wyden-Bennett – several parts are good (especially uncoupling employment and health insurance)

Furman – McCain – tax credits for qualifying plans

Posted by: kingstu01 | August 17, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"Let's remind ourselves that THERE IS NO REPUBLICAN ALTERNATIVE BILL in either house or senate. Their alternative seems to be 'do nothing'. And they seems united in that view (Snow and Collins in the senate, perhaps excepted.)."

This "do nothing” canard is worse than the Palin "death panel" canard because the "do nothing" mantra is not quite as ridiculous. NOBODY is in favor of “do nothing” but many of us are in favor of stopping bad legislation.

Republicans (and Libertarians) support less government involvement so anything that increases government involvement is a non-starter. How can anyone in their right mind claim we have a “free market” in health care? Has anyone here read any health care regulations? Anyone know what a CON is? Can you buy insurance across state lines?

Wyden-Bennett is a bipartisan bill that would get a great deal of Republican support. It was written by a Republican and a Democrat and IMO, it would pass with more than a dozen Republican votes in the Senate.

Posted by: kingstu01 | August 17, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

By supporting the administration's "bipartisan" incrementalism, Ezra, you've played right into the GOP's hands. You've been punk'd by Grassley.

You've said repeatedly and publicly there would be legislation that would include a public option. Now would be the time to admit the errors in your thinking, how you've misjudged the politics of this debate even as it unfolded before us all.

There will be no healthcare reform this year. The town halls and the death panels were the beginning of the end.


Ez, I luv you man, but I must concede that Scarlota has a strong point. From TAP to here, you've been a voice of reason, bruiting about the benefits of bipartisanship and of the constraints of Congressional reality. You like a lot of us, assumed the Senate Finance Committee was composed of sober-minded empiricists not partisan hacks.

Well, after getting our nose bloodied and our lunch money ganked again, I think it's about time to get medieval on the Senate Republicans. All pretense of collegiality must cease. These suckers are out to ruin us and every thing we stand for.

Reason is fine for dealing with statesmen. These hacks need to wake up to the reality that Grassley et al, are playing dirty.

Posted by: mrmoogie | August 17, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

The problem is the Dakota Senator is even less interested in the the repubs, in crossing his monied backers in the insurance industry.
What needs to happen is Reid needs to strip his chairman of his position and place someone there with the same interests as the majority of the country.
Right now the Dems are bowing to the god of bi-partisanship and it will not produce anything worth while, but will probably put 60 billion in subsidies into the pockets of the insurance companies.

Posted by: NHEngineer | August 17, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Grassley is a hypocrite who obviously never intended to "compromise", Baucus is his enabler swimming in industry money and more and more, its looking like the White House has been naive or worse in going along with this nonsense.

Posted by: mybandy | August 17, 2009 3:42 PM | Report abuse

"If a good bill cannot attract Republican support, then it is not a good bill, he argued."

Actually, I hold just the opposite-- Republican support by definition means a bad (or at least pathetically weak) bill. They have no plans, no useful ideas, and still cling to their trickle-down fantasy in which serving the interests of an oligarchy is somehow good for all even though this has been proven false again and again. Why in the world would we look to the right for anything beyond some useful critiques once they've been out of power long enough for Democrats to actually overreach and sane GOPers to retake a bit of influence? Right now, they're not just useless; they're malevolent.

Posted by: latts | August 17, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Isn't it time now for the Democrats to consider the nuclear option entertained by the Republicans a few years ago?

The Senate is not actually a chamber that requires a 60 vote majority to pass legislation. The rules making it so are internal Senate rules that can be changed by the Democrats if they are willing to take the heat.

Once health care is a 50 voter bill everything changes. The bill no longer needs to be watered down until it is ineffective to pass. Voting for the more effective bill becomes politically desirable because who wats to vote against what will become a popular change to a braken system.

Ironically the best way to get the votes of blue dogs and moderate Republicans is to take away their influence on the bill itself. The bill becomes a better bill, and therefore more dangerous to vote against. Also, they can go back to their districts complaining they wanted the weakening changes, but their hands were tied. The bill was too liberal, but better than the status quo.

Posted by: tomwittmann | August 17, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

surely the Blue Dogs don't think that the failure of a bill to pass will help their electoral prospects down the road?

your dog is not your friend or your equal. time to administer a correction.....

Posted by: Nick28 | August 17, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Grassley is and has always been a hack. He is NOT bipartisan as you have described in your piece and wants NOTHING to do with a piece of legislation that Obama needs - ever. IF any of Obama's WH staff OR legislative 'liaisons" believe any differently (including Rahmboo) they need to be replaced. Grassley is an ass and will always be a ass.

Posted by: rbaldwin2 | August 17, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

So why in the world Media does not ask the question to White House and Baucus that - is it not 'dishonesty' to continue to negotiate with Sen. Grassley?

Our President needs to answer, Sen. Baucus needs to answer and Sen. Reid need to answer; what do we get back by continued negotiations within Senate Finance Committee.

I mean openly these folks are throwing 'dust' in our eyes and we are expected to take this crap?

Negotiations are broken. What are Dems waiting for? Some kind of Supreme Court verdict or what?

This is unbelievable in any political discourse. The guy is saying no matter what, I am not going to vote even if I agree with the bill (why would other Republicans come around?) and here we are still negotiating with him. This is total mockery and fiasco of democracy.

It was all along expected that Sen. Grassley will volt in the end. But here he is effectively saying 'balls to you all...' and we have Dems still putting the show of negotiations.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 17, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

"remember that almost 60 million Americans voted against Barack Obama and the Democratic platform"

So what? That number only represented 45.7% of the voters. Though I realize we are not a representative democracy per se, the fact is that we are governed by the rule of the majority, not the temper tantrums of the minority (or at least that's how it is supposed to work).

It is the minority's responsibility to actually play a proactive role in bringing something to the table, not the majority's responsibility to kowtow to every whim the minority has. The Senate was never meant to run on a supermajority vote for EVERYTHING.

ELECTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES.

I'm sure the Republicans will all magically remember this once they come back into the majority one day and start screaming about the nuclear option and the tyranny of the obstructionist minority Democrats once again.

Posted by: OMG-Socialism | August 17, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

How is it that something I've known for months only gets play in the WaPo after it's too late to do anyone any good?

Posted by: PorkBelly | August 17, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, I think you live in a world where you imagine there is good will all around. There isn't. It should be clear by now there was never any intention for the Rs to work out a compromise with the majority. Their plan is 1994 redux. Shoot everything down and win back the senate and house on the ruins of the Dem. failure to govern. Grassley has simply been fighting a delaying action to give the Rs time to mobilize the teabaggers and the Insurance industry.

Grassley and his crowd are simply dishonest and malicious in their intent. It's all a kabuki theatre and the Ds, led by Schumer in the Senate, will pass their own bill and do it with Reconciliation if need be.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | August 17, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

grasserly needs to get a bill done. I think i'm one of the most conservative posters on here and even I know that reforms need to be done otherwise we'll be back here in 5 years or so with much more at stake.


the problem with grasserly is has anyone seen his town halls. He's getting bombarded in his white middle class area that is struggling to survive with the "anti illegal immigrant" rhetoric and they're going to take my healthcare from me and its seeping into his brain. Get the right reform done Chuck or you'll be gone.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 17, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Hillbilly Healthcare Haiku 8/17/09

my missing spine hurts
said the Dem with no resolve
Progress in Health Care??

Posted by: tennesseemoonshiner | August 17, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Why are they talking to this turd?

Posted by: BlahBlahBlah314 | August 17, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Hillbilly Healthcare Haiku II 8/17/09

bipartisanship
fleeting factual mirage
Let's Negotiate!

Posted by: tennesseemoonshiner | August 17, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Baucus should now be required to explain publicly what he thinks he is up to. If he's smart, he'll just bag the Gang of Six at this point and let the committee write the bill. It is really the only way to save his reputation.

Posted by: member5 | August 17, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Health care "reform" will explode the federal budget. If the care costs less than the tax, it will be provided by the private sector, but if it costs more, it will be shifted and the tax paid, which is by definition, inadequate to cover the costs. Cant and wont work. Hasnt worked in Tennessee and Massachusetts. Doesnt work in Britian: you wait or pay extra to go outside the system. Why do we think the feds can do it differently? Is it their succes with Amtrak or the Post Office that is so convincing?

Posted by: bruce18 | August 17, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

It begs the question of course:
Should Senators follow their party affiliation or should they follow their Constituents??
The answer is clear:
Republicans follow the party line. Period. Constituents be damned.
Democrats follow their constituents more, hence the lack of Party Cohesion. (see the Blue Dogs, supposedly Dems, but often acting as Repubs)

Hopefully that same Party Cohesion will be more of the Republican downfall, especially in the light of the Republican party being more and more held hostage by their extreme hateful wing, that most people don't subscribe to. Not even most Republicans.

Posted by: Dutch5 | August 17, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

"Why do we think the feds can do it differently? Is it their succes with Amtrak or the Post Office that is so convincing?"

No, it's the success of Medicare. And yes, it will be in the red soon but that means you have to adjust benefits and taxes. The End.

Posted by: BlahBlahBlah314 | August 17, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

So what else is new?

Posted by: lensch | August 17, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Pres.Lyndon Johnson PUSHED thru giant projects like Medicare & the Civil Rights legislation by the many means a sitting President has. Including threats of retribution and taking away gov't funds out of districts that a representative voting against his programs were from. This was a very strong president that got historic programs thru a very negative congress. OK Obama - slash & burn. The Republicans are at war and you won't win unless you bring out your cannons. You can't just wound them. You must win.

Posted by: beaner136 | August 17, 2009 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Poor Ezra,

You just don't get it. Here's why Senator Grassley won't support a health care bill that doesn't have enough merit to gain significant Republican backing.

Health care represents about ONE SIXTH of the total American economy. That means that any effort to reform it needs to be genuinely bipartisan. If a health care bill is so one-sided that it can only attract a tiny handful of votes from the minority party, then it doesn't deserve to be enacted.

Posted by: hartlex | August 17, 2009 10:39 PM | Report abuse

Grassley should immediately be removed from the committee. It's clear that he's one big reason the committee has been able to come up with a bill. And Obama should give the committee a very short deadline, then move past them when they don't meet it (as they obviously can't if Grassley is still obstructing.) Obama's effort at "bi-partisanship" has been used by the GOP to stop legislation they can't defeat by their votes and it's left Obama weakened. He needs to begin again, remember what he promised us last year about cleaning house in D.C., create a bill Democrats can support and get it passed! The longer this charade continues, the weaker the legislation is likely to be, and the greater the chance that we'll miss another once-every-20-years opportunity to reform health care laws in America.

Posted by: TT42 | August 18, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

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