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The Crankiest Republican

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Of late, Mike Enzi is getting a lot of bad press from liberals who think him too conservative to be involved in the Gang of Six process. But so far, he's not been the problem. He's not been trashing reform in public and on Twitter. He's not been stoking the death panel talks or taking shots at the president. That's fallen to Chuck Grassley.

Which is something of a surprise. Olympia Snowe is the liberal Republican. Enzi is the conservative. But Grassley is supposed to be the responsible one. The high-minded former chairman of the Finance Committee with a long record of bipartisan dealings with Max Baucus and an unflappable Midwestern reserve. The adult in the room.

Instead, he's been the most volatile member of the talks.

A lot of the hostility has burst out from his Twitter feed. Who can forget him scolding Obama because "u think evrything is NAIL im no NAIL." If the tweets have been cranky, however, the town halls have gotten into actual crankery. On Wednesday, he fed the death panel nonsense, telling a crowd that "you have every right to fear. You shouldn't have counseling at the end of life. ... We should not have a government program that determines if you're going to pull the plug on grandma."

This is the guy, remember, who is serving as the linchpin of bipartisanship in the Senate.

Grassley, of course, would not be the first politician to soberly legislate behind closed doors and stoke the base from behind the podium. But Baucus and Conrad and Bingaman are risking a lot to sit in these talks. Many Democrats think they are harming health-care reform by insisting on a bipartisan proposal. But they're simply absorbing those blows, trusting that the product will be worth it. Grassley, conversely, is keeping up a public persona that would be perfectly consistent with dooming the bill. He's keeping open the option of profiting from the collapse of the bill. He's hedging. Which makes it very hard for Reid and the rest of the Democratic caucus to believe he's ready to make the hard compromises required to actually pass good legislation.

Photo credit: Bill O'Leary -- The Washington Post

By Ezra Klein  |  August 13, 2009; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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Comments

Here's hoping this will finally make Democrats bypass the Finance Committee, or force them to finish their "bipartisan" bill, so they can actually get a Health Care bill done.

Going to be a lot harder to make up lies about health reform bill once an actual bill is created. Right now, the mess in Congress is just feeding into the uncertainty out there, helping the crazy folk out there who want to sink any type of health reform.

Posted by: JERiv | August 13, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

There have to be consequences for the kind of duplicity that Grassley is practicing, or there will be no end to it and Obama will be perceived (rightly) as weak. Grassley needs to be cut out of the discussions for perpetrating the worst falsehoods about the bill. Baucus needs Snowe, but not Grassley. Obama really needs to tell Grassley the game is up, and Baucus needs to join with the rest of the committee and Snowe if she is willing and report a bill out of committee. Otherwise, Reid should take it away from Finance. There is apparently some precedent for that.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 13, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

One of the things thats so bothersome about this process is hearing Grassley say something like, "You ought to have counseling 20 years before you're going to die. You ought to plan these things out."

Getting past the fact that I don't know of any scenario in which someone can predict that they're gonna die in 20 years, while there are many in which someone could predict their death in the next few years, it seems that the basis of his criticism is that these are things that ought to be planned earlier. So fine, that may in fact be a reasonable critique, but then use your position on the committee to push for a better policy.

Its this dishonest approach of throwing anything at the wall and waiting to see what sticks that infuriates me so much. I don't know enough about the issue to say that the policy for advanced care proposed in the bill is the best policy. I do know that broadly speaking I support advanced care. I would love for our political process to be one in which politicians used their knowledge and access to expert opinion to implement the best advanced care policy possible.

I don't necessarily know what that looks like. If there's a free-market approach that would optimize advanced care, then advocates should make that case. Grassley claims to support the concept of advanced care, but believes it would be better implemented without government intervention and that the bill's approach is flawed. These are all honest positions to hold, even if I don't agree with them. What's so dishonest is then leaping from that critique to one in which the government is ready to "pull the plug on grandma."

That government policy might not be the best mechanism through which to develop a worthwhile program, is entirely unrelated to an argument that suggests the government will engage in terrorizing policy. I'm not saying a case can never be made for the latter, as Will Wilkinson pointed out in his critique of Ezra's post, governments, including ours are capable of absolutely brutal policy. But that argument does not rest on a critique of the efficacy of government intervention. Ineffectiveness is not the same as cruelty.

I'm not so naive to overlook the fact that Grassley is being anything but willfully dishonest. He's aware that he has the power to influence the discussion and try to create a better policy. But thats obviously not what this is about for him. He wants to destroy the bill in any form to score a political victory. I know that its the reality of our political system that usually the best politics for a minority party is to obstruct policy, rather than bring honest criticisms in an attempt to improve policy...but its really frustrating to watch it in action with something thats so critical to our country's future.

Posted by: Matt40 | August 13, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

"here have to be consequences for the kind of duplicity that Grassley is practicing, or there will be no end to it and Obama will be perceived (rightly) as weak. Grassley needs to be cut out of the discussions for perpetrating the worst falsehoods about the bill. Baucus needs Snowe, but not Grassley. Obama really needs to tell Grassley the game is up, and Baucus needs to join with the rest of the committee and Snowe if she is willing and report a bill out of committee. Otherwise, Reid should take it away from Finance. There is apparently some precedent for that."

I'm no expert on legislative process, but it seems to me that if anything, Obama needs to tell Baucus the game is up. Grassley has no incentive to work with Obama and like you say, the process doesn't need Grassley. So Obama, or perhaps Reid should go to Baucus and tell him to stop trying to work with someone who has no desire to do anything but obstruct.

Posted by: Matt40 | August 13, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I just left a post on Grassley's website telling him what I think of his politicking on health care reform. Polite, but no punches pulled. I don't live in IA, and maybe naive to think it matters to people like the Senator, but it felt like the right thing to do to let him know what I thought.

Posted by: MisterSunshine | August 13, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

What Mimikatz said. From the GOP, we need Snowe and Collins - and that's it. And that's only because of Kennedy's and Byrd's illnesses; if Byrd can make it to the floor on health care, as he did for the Sotomayor vote, then we only need both Snowe and Collins in order to keep Ben Nelson in line.

It's time for Obama and Reid to tell Baucus to drop Grassley and Enzi from the process. They aren't needed, and they certainly aren't being helpful. Time to shut them out of the game.

Posted by: rt42 | August 14, 2009 9:01 AM | Report abuse

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