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'Democratic policymakers must give success a chance'

Steve Benen has some advice for the Democrats.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 25, 2010; 4:08 PM ET
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yes, good advice.
we must give success a chance.
the stakes are too high...
failure cannot be an option.

Posted by: jkaren | January 25, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Amen, brother!!

Posted by: rayrick1 | January 25, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

The core issue here that I think Ezra and others are missing is understanding *why* many people object to the legislation.

I'm writing this as someone who supports the legislation, but who knows various people who don't support it. Overwhelmingly, they lack concrete policy objections to the legislation. But their objections are all *process*-based: They feel as if the legislation has just been written by Democrats to get Democratic votes.

This is a natural hazard of single-party rule. If Republicans don't participate in the legislative process, then it's easy for them to turn around and make people feel as if there are no checks on the system.

What I think Obama has to do is very publicly make an announcement that he is going to write the health reform legislation with Republicans and Democrats together. He will televise the meetings on C-SPAN, so Republicans can't simply abstain from the process and so that Republicans will be forced to take some ownership, and also to generate the feeling of transparency that some people have felt is missing.

Do that, and I really promise you health care will be a political winner.

The president's playbook for divided government is simple: Run against Congress. But the hazard of single-party rule is that people who don't closely associate themselves with the party in power will feel that their voices are not being heard. The single best way to combat that sentiment is, rather than accusing Republicans of obstructionism, to generate the impression that all voices are in fact being heard, and that the legislative process does actually include everyone. Like I say, do that, and the political environment will shift as much in the next ten months as it did in the previous ten.

Posted by: jeffwacker | January 25, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

jeffwacker, I'm really curious why you think that the GOP would participate in this process when they've opted out of the process so far? Certainly they'd have no incentive to participate in a dog-and-pony show of C-span televising president sitting in a conference room with a legal pad writing up health care legislation.

The GOP has intentionally poisoned the process, which is smart for them politically. The Democrats only alternative at this point is to cram the legislation though and then let people to realize that the sky didn't fall.

Posted by: JEinATL | January 25, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

This memo just about sums up my opinions on the matter. I hope Democrats will read it and take its advice.

Posted by: Chris48 | January 25, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

More and more democratic voices seem to be coalescing around the same, simple strategy: pass the Senate bill and then fix what you can. I'm starting to harbor slightly less pessimism.

Posted by: mjp8 | January 25, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

JEinATL, the problem is that politics gets seen through a lot of filters. It's very easy for Republicans to cry right now that the legislation has been written "behind closed doors" because people are hearing entirely second-hand about the process by which legislation is being made.

I subscribe to Nate Silver's idea that simple ideas have a lot of political resonance. if you can sum something up in a sentence, it has a good chance of sticking in the public awareness. So you need to either be able to create the impression of bipartisan cooperation, or else you need to be able to make a really simple and irrefutable case that Republicans are obstructionists.

If Obama invites Republican leadership to come to the White House and discuss health care on C-SPAN and the Republicans turn him down, the Republican leadership will get absolutely nailed. Why? Because a huge majority of Americans like the idea of having some kind of health care reform, even if they dislike the legislation currently on the table. Not showing up is like saying that there's nothing to fix about health care, which is a wildly unpopular position, and would give real political cover to Obama and the Democrats in passing something with only Democratic votes. Besides, as a matter of human interaction, when someone does something nice for you, it looks terrible to shoot them down -- the norm of reciprocity.

Now, if the Republicans show up, Obama just has to ask them what they want. Force them to take public positions on subsidies, on the exchange, on pre-existing conditions, etc. Hash it out live. The Republicans cannot simply show up and then oppose everything -- in no small part because, as many people have pointed out, the individual components of the legislation are actually quite popular.

And, just as notably, once Republicans show up and people watch their ideas being incorporated into the legislation, they cannot subsequently pretend that they have nothing to do with the bill. It will create the *impression* of a joint effort, which is a best-case outcome for Obama and for the reform's political prospects.

The most important thing, though, is that it looks really bad for Republicans if someone really publicly extends an olive branch, offers to listen to them, and they shoot it down. Yes, this has been going on in private -- see Grassley, Chuck. But Obama has the power to make it really visible -- to be able to encapsulate that idea into the kind of simple description that can alter the political discourse -- and he needs to take advantage of that power.

Posted by: jeffwacker | January 25, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Steven Benin has it right. The healthcare reform bill is one-half composed of Republican ideas. The negative reaction to it in the country has been doggedly drummed-up for nearly a year by those same Republicans, who simply don't want the Democrats to score the political win. It is indeed the old Bill Kristol playbook. That they have libertarian teaparties on their noisy right helps them, see the recent Massa. mini-quake -- although the teaparty also threatens the Republican establishment, at least as Limbaugh now rides the herd. (In another era, the moderate Republicans would pass the reform. Healthcare costs are starting to adversely affect the international competitiveness of U.S. businesses. Though the Repubs might not pay for it -- look at Medicare part D.) Meanwhile, the Democrats can't sell the coverage mandate to their progressive left, without the public option. I predicted this back in August: Because the reform is making you pay money to the useless and really offensive private insurance companies. I think if healthcare reform is passed and people start to discuss its trade-offs in detail, the Democrats should immediately start banging-the-drum to elect more Democrats to vote for a public option to drive the insurance companies into offering a nonprofit plan, if you individually want it, and save 6 cents to 10 cents out of your every healthcare dollar. Because basically they really are useless.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | January 25, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

The link provided seems to be most persuasive blog on why the HCR needs to be passed by the House. I was very much against the Senate version, but the article has convinced me that passing it will not only energize the base but also the independents once the good things about the bill are discussed on various news outlets. I am now for the current HCR to be passed. Lets go for it!

Posted by: ns3k | January 25, 2010 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: mjp8
More and more democratic voices seem to be coalescing around the same, simple strategy: pass the Senate bill and then fix what you can.
It really doesn't matter much what some democrats or pundits say. The only judgements that count are those of about 20 swing voters in the House, and those people are trying to gauge the mood of their constituents. They don't give a hoot about arguments made elsewhere.

Posted by: HuckFinn | January 25, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

The part about Ezra being a health care expert was pretty amusing.

As for the rest ...

The House members never voted for the Senate bill, they voted for a bill paid for by the rich through a surtax.

Based on data from Joint Tax, the cost of the Senate bill falls almost entirely on the middle class.

Now that the public knows that the "Cadillac" tax is actually a tax on middle class and together with cuts to Medicare fund the entire bill for the second decade ... No Democrat in their right mind will ever vote for the Senate bill.

Unless there is 60 votes in the Senate to raise taxes on those earning over $250,000.00 a year to pay for reform ... it is DEAD!

Posted by: cautious | January 26, 2010 3:27 AM | Report abuse

This piece says it all. Benen gets it exactly right. This week's crucial, I do hope people are making a lot of phone calls to their Democratic congresspeople.

Posted by: opinionpieces | January 26, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

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