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No More Regrets

As Steve Pearlstein writes, Ted Kennedy's greatest legislative regret was failing to strike a deal on health-care reform when Richard Nixon seemed ready to cut one with him. "The simple lesson from this story," writes Pearlstein, "and certainly the one Kennedy himself drew, is that when it comes to historic breakthroughs in social policy, make the best deal you can get, leaving it to subsequent generations to perfect. That's what happened with Medicare and Medicaid, and there is no reason to think it wouldn't happen again with universal coverage and reform of the health insurance market."

Pearlstein goes on to outline the basic shape of the deal on the table, and I think he's basically right about it. The wild cards remaining are the public plan, the precise mix of revenue measures and whether the subsidies reach 300 percent or 400 percent of poverty. That last is more important than people give it credit for: Because subsidies scale down, the subsidies between 200 and 300 percent of poverty are a lot lower if the cutoff is 300 percent than 400 percent.

There's been a lot of talk in recent days about how Ted Kennedy proved the greatest of the three brothers. JFK was an inspiring, but ultimately ineffective, president. RFK never had the opportunity to prove himself. But Ted Kennedy eventually learned an important lesson. At the beginning of his career, he saw things as they were and asked, "Why?" By the end, he dreamed things that never were and said, "How can that pass the Senate?" And that's the relevant question right now: It's not why we don't have a better system. It's how this deal can pass the Senate. No more regrets.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 28, 2009; 11:28 AM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Next: Harry Reid Supports the Public Option


"JFK was an inspiring, but ultimately ineffective..."


JFK was surprisingly effective. He cut taxes and was strong on national defense. What you call "ineffective" is that JFK was not the socialist that Teddy was. I'm sure JFK was spinning in his grave at a high RPM rate every time Teddy helped pass more and more socialist programs.

No, JFK was very effective and was just what America needed. Teddy was also effective, but was not what America needed at all.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | August 28, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

WrongfulDeath: running on "strong on national defense" is not actually an accomplishment. It is a campaign slogan. The crisis of our time when JFK was elected was the civil rights movement, which went unfulfilled until Johnson came into office. Kennedy was always the unfulfilled promises, and that's actually why he's revered. We love our martyrs.

Posted by: constans | August 28, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Question to Ezra - what is your analysis and expectation in terms where the final bill will land compared to what Pealstein articulated? What are the chances that such a middle ground or say reasonable ground is achieved?

About JFK - I believe, one single visionary act of propelling this country towards efforts to land human on Moon is fine. At the end of the day, President's job is to be a visionary and making a political space to make it possible. Rest of the execution (or screw up), you have the Congress.

I know there is 'no science' served or not much by human trips to Moon. But the same could have been said for all the sea voyages of bygone era.... We all know the importance of all that now.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 28, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

From Pearlsteain's column:

"This is not a deal, mind you, designed to win the support of Republican leaders in Congress -- at this point they're determined to derail any health reform plan. Rather, it is the deal necessary to win broad support from an American public wary of federal deficits, anxious about losing the health care it already has and fearful of radical change."

"Broad support from an American public"? With that kind of plan? Who'd he ask?

I hear the Village talking here.

Posted by: leoklein | August 28, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

What were the debt and deficit as a percentage of GDP when JFK cut taxes?

Posted by: newjersey_lawyer | August 28, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I guess we have different standards. "Averting nuclear holocaust" goes in the "effective" column in my book.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | August 28, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

My only quibble w/ Pearlstein's column was his statement that "there is a deal to be had here if only Democrats would be willing to take it." First off, as Ezra notes, the deal he's describing is the deal that the Dems are putting together - with all due respect, they don't need Pearlstein or anyone else in the media telling them what a deal ought to look like, they need the media to explain - honestly and objectively - what the deal really is & what it would mean to people. Pearlstein's description is accurate, and on its own terms i think it would appeal to most people. When those people read it, they should understand that this is what Congress is already working on, not Pearlstein's prescription.

Second, the Dems aren't in a position to "take" a deal - they have to MAKE one amongst themselves. The problem here isn't intransigence among the Democrats. The problem here is that the GOP has decided to oppose everything, meaning the deal has to be passed with Democratic votes only, meaning that each one of those votes is an even bigger risk than it would be anyway & that each one of those votes is the potential margin of passage. In that environment, every small difference gets blown out of proportion & the incentives are to hold out over every difference - and be the last guy to get on board. It's a daunting environment in which to get anything done.

I think the first thing the House ought to do after Sen. Kennedy's funeral is to pass their version of health reform. That same day, Sen. Reid should say that he's sending the HELP Committee bill to the floor the day after Labor Day, and if the Finance Committee doesn't have a bill by then they won't get on the docket. He and Speaker Pelosi should also announce that day that they've begun selecting members to send to the Conference Committee, and that any senator who votes against cloture won't be on the list. Like the man says, no more regrets.

Posted by: tomwoods | August 28, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

pearlstein is an echo

there is a lot of teddy K compromised so everyone for reform should give up the fight and settle for less

david brooks called for "gradualism" in ted kennedy's name

pearlstein is dressing up the anti-public option argument in a teddy kennedy story that maligns what he stood for and how he operated

like david brooks - he wishes for gradualism

let's have gradual health reform!

medicare was done about 40 years ago, let's wait another 40 years to make further changes in national healthcare

lets continue to provide high levels of profits for non-competitive corporations (insurers, pharmas, device makers, others) while denying health security to the everyone

profits to corporate entities insurers, pharmas, device makers, etc.,

Posted by: jamesoneill | August 28, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Amazing that you choose to honor Ted Kennedy by intimating that Ds should cave on a public option.

I mean, Kennedy, who strongly and uncompromisingly dug in his heels and saved us from having that reactionary Bork on SCOTUS.

Perhaps you could inform the public not about the alleged written-in-stone operations of the Senate, but about the public option Ted Kennedy plainly believed was achievable and ought to be secured. From his 7/2/09 letter with Dodd:

"Moreover, a strong public option isn’t just what Americans want – it’s what America needs. All of us understand the importance of the work we’re doing. The health of our economy and our families rely on it. But if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. The Senate must not, and the HELP Committee will not, shy away from this challenge. We must not settle for legislation that merely gestures at reform. We must deliver on the promise of true change."

Why in God's name you think it's your job to talk down the left on the public option using Ted Kennedy's memory is beyond me.

Posted by: timmyfuller2 | August 28, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

We wonder why Ds have such wishy-washy representatives and we can't push our agenda through.

Surely part of the problem is staring us in the face in the form of Ezra Klein's handsomely unshaven pic.

We have lame, uninspiring, reasonable-above-all-else opinion shapers on the left.

Klein decides to channel the momentum from Ted Kennedy's death -- a strong supporter of the public option -- into a clarion call to pre-emptively cave on the public option!

The problem with a weenie like Klein is that he always tries to figure out the final score before the game is played and then aim for that. That never works. You need to fight to get the most points while the outcome is still undecided.

Ted Kennedy knew that even if Klein doesn't.

Posted by: timmyfuller2 | August 28, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

timmyfuller2, you are right on. Ezra is now a villager, and is willing to sell Teddy out for a bit of self-promotion.

If we want to honor Edward Kennedy's memory, what we pass is: "All legal US residents are now eligible for Medicare. Those under 65 and whose family income is above 400% of the poverty level, and who choose this option, must pay 110% of the direct cost of this insurance. All others under 65 are eligible for a sliding payment scale based on income."

Posted by: Dollared | August 28, 2009 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Ted Kennedy wrote in Newsweek last month that the "public plan" is "vital."

Posted by: EricJaffa | August 28, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Before progressives agree to take any deals, we need the media (and Ezra) to reveal the dealmakers and disclose their agenda. I want to know if conservative Democrats have agreed to anything that Republicans might still object to, two years from now. If not, if the conservative Democrats are unwilling ever to defend anything at all, then we should all recognize up front that in substance we've got a Republican deal.

Posted by: ScroopMoth | August 28, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

So Kennedy in his last article on the subject called the public option "vital".

And in a letter a little over a month ago, wrote that a strong public option was something the Senate "must" pass.

Yet Klein decides to mind-read and claim what the lion of the Senate really would've wanted was a devout willingness to compromise on the public option.

It's high time somebody called out this boy wonder pundit: Ezra, you're a moron.

Posted by: timmyfuller2 | August 28, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

Yes, but it's important and highly valuable to build towards long term goals too, like at least eventually ending the filibuster. The process starts with building understanding and support among experts and the well educated, and hopefully reaching a consensus; that consensus carries weight and persuasion; from there politicians learn and are convinced, and the cascade can continue down to the population in general.

This is how it happened with free trade, just one of many examples.

Posted by: Richard722 | August 28, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

EZRA - you're being called out @ DailyKos for accepting Pearlstein's quote without confirming his own accuracy.

This is very uncharacteristic of you. But the facts are pretty clear that you are gravely mistaken in your rubber stamping of Pearlstein's inaccurate and made-up quote.

So say people who worked with Teddy Kennedy.

Here's the thread@ dkos:

Posted by: quicksite2 | September 1, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Good lord, how many pixels are going to be wasted "debunking the greatest regret myth"? While we can never know for sure, it seems to me unimpeachable that if Kennedy and other Dems could go back in time, knowing what they know now, they would have passed health care reform with Nixon in the 70s.

Whether this was Kennedy's "greatest regret," a simple regret, or something he'd do over given the chance is angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Posted by: JEinATL | September 1, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Wrongfuldeath: An admirer of JFK but thinks Teddy was a Socialist. I didn't know your type even existed.

Posted by: kybo8845 | September 1, 2009 5:59 PM | Report abuse

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