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The Senate bill is the most progressive base bill Democrats will get

The negotiations on the Hill are increasingly odd. One of the options is to pass the Senate bill. That's not a perfect option, because it's not as progressive as the House bill. Another option is to pass the Senate bill and put the compromises into a reconciliation rider. House members are worried, however, that that will seem like another backroom deal and give Republicans more ammunition. A third option is to pare the bill back and pass some of its component pieces, like the Medicaid expansion and the insurance reform.

Of all of these, the third option makes the least sense. The Senate bill may not be as progressive as the House bill. But it's a whole lot more progressive than something that's smaller and covers fewer people. As a negotiating strategy, this is a bit like rejecting a job because it pays too little and instead taking a worse job that pays less.

As for kneeling before the Republican argument that passing a package of amendments is a backroom deal, put the negotiations, or whatever they are, on C-SPAN. If the lesson Democrats have taken from this is that they can no longer pass legislation because passing legislation involves people speaking in rooms and agreeing on deals, they've just agreed to rule governance out of order.

I'm starting to think congressional Republicans have mastered the Jedi mind trick.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 21, 2010; 4:45 PM ET
 
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Next: And the failure stories begin

Comments

Americans pay 40% more for healthcare than the workers in other countries. This extra cost directly increases the prices of goods and services offered by the U.S. on world markets.

It is starting to put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage. This is going to affect U.S. businesses, U.S. economic growth, and U.S. military strength. The current health system is a dangerous problem.

The Democrats should pass a non-profit public option in whatever shape possible in some sort of reconciliation package. If empoyers dump workers into it, make sure they also fork over the wages implicitly saved. Little else is necessary at the moment. Stop giving away extra money to the useless private insurers, and get on the road to cost control now.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | January 21, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

It's comments such as the one above from Lee_A_Arnold that demonstrate that he and his elitist buddies don't give a whit what the people want and it *has* been demonstrated time and time again through many differnt polls that across the nation, few want a big government takeover of healthcare.

I have a question for Mr. Arnold: When do the people get to govern themselves? Why doesn't thier opinion count?

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | January 21, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

When we switch to our neo-direct democracy form of government, which poll do you guys think should get to be the official one that sets policy? I'm hoping for PPP, though I would be fine with R2K. I'm glad I kept my landline!

Posted by: cog145 | January 21, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Looks that way. Obama seems to be very confused about what "leadership" is. It is not standing above the fray mouthing meta platitudes. It is making it clear what you stand for and why and inspiring/cajoling/pressuring Congress. The "full plate" comment from Gibbs was tone deaf and sounds like a kid who didn't finish his homework. He is the President, not the diner-in-Chief. What is wrong with these people?

Your posts have been great yesterday and today. A little reality is what the Dems need.

Posted by: Mimikatz | January 21, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I can't seem to comment on your last post so I'll leave my comment here.

Not only can't Dems govern, they didn't effectively function as an opposition party during the Bush administration. Vote them into power. Nothing. Support them in the minority. Nothing.

Not much of a party.

Posted by: privacy3 | January 21, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

"which poll do you guys think should get to be the official one that sets policy?"

Awesome comment!

Posted by: lazza11 | January 21, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

@WrongfulDeath: "few want a big government takeover of healthcare."

Good thing, then, that the bill addresses health insurance, not health care - or did you think all doctors would become federal employees under this bill? It's hard to tell what the public's perception of the HCR is given how much misinformation has been promoted by the right.

The funny thing is if you look at Brown's messaging during his campaign, you discover that his success speaks to people's desire FOR "big government control of health care", not against it, despite the giddy GOP spin to the contrary.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | January 21, 2010 5:11 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, you are saying precisely the right thing. Please keep reminding them every single day that they must pass the Senate bill in the House for the coming days, weeks, and months. The Democrats have a large 256-178 House majority and are one easy vote away from the most significant legislative achievement in many generations. With every day they hesitate to make use of their majority, they are proclaiming their political worthlessness and cruising for a disaster in the fall elections. The political situation into which are maneuvering themselves is truly bizarre. Democrats are behaving like someone has has won the lottery but is refusing to redeem the jackpot until the ticket expires.

Posted by: opinionpieces | January 21, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I've been sharing many of your posts today on my Facebook page (you can take that right to the bank!). I'm so distraught. The Democrats are making me want to jump ship. Really. Given what we're seeing, how could a vote for the Green party be much more of a wasted vote than a vote for the Democratic party?

Posted by: simmonslcsw | January 21, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Dems should do the following two things immediately:

- Pass the Senate health bill.

- Impeach the USSC Justices who voted to decimate campaign finance limits for corporations and unions.

Posted by: Lomillialor | January 21, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Here's my question for Democrats who want to split the bill up/pare it back, a move whose rationale seems entirely to be that the Republicans won't be able to lie about smaller bills and make them unpopular like HCR: why not? It's not like most people are reading the bills wholesale. They'll just do what they've been doing.

This all sounds like House Democrats trying to shove responsibility on the Senate. Enough. If you can't pass HCR I frankly don't want you guys to get to work on the economy.

Posted by: TheLev | January 21, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Terrorism only works if you're terrified. The Democrats are terrified and showing it.

The Senate bill is better than the status quo. Pass it and fight the Republicans. The alternative is surrender and if Democrats surrender on Health Care Reform and think people will vote for them because they're weak and ineffective, they'll deserve the drubbing they're going to get in November.

Posted by: steveh46 | January 21, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

They're all angling to avoid getting booted out in the next election. Great. Ok, they run from health care reform (and good luck trying to explain the first vote in favor of the bill) and maybe they save their seat. Then what? Why are they in office? To get re-elected every two years? I'm not even sure what the (D) means anymore if they're too spineless to push through HCR. Feed 'em to the "tea party" mobs.

Posted by: YoungDem86 | January 21, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Amen Ezra! I don't understand the skittishness of House Democrats to embrace the Senate Bill (no matter how flawed). All Democrats will be attacked for their support of healthcare reform regardless if it is passed or not. 218 in the House and 59 (minus Paul Kirk, who is now irrelevant) in the Senate are on record with votes in support of healthcare reform. This is an essential fact that cannot be erased...

As a mostly democratic voter, all the democrats can guarantee by not passing healthcare legislation is that I will not vote! I will sit at home on my hands as the republicans sweep to the majority. Will things get easier if that happens? Best option is to take the pain and pass this healthcare reform bill. Immediately pivot afterwards towards an activist agenda that forces the republicans to make tough votes against popular initiatives in the remaining 10 months till the election. Waiting gets them nothing. Reporting will not change. The epitaphs will be written up until the election and beyond and the failure will be debated for another 17 years... Health insurance will continue to get more expensive, more people will die, more people will fall through the cracks, and democrats will look at best impotent...

Posted by: academicnomad | January 21, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

Re: this comment in your previous post:

"At that point, what's the pitch for voting for Democrats? That they agree with you? A plumber and I both agree that my toilet should work. But if he can't make it work, I'm not going to pay him any money or invite him into my home. Governance isn't just about ideology. It's also about competence and will. That's where Democrats are flagging."

I agree with the broader point you're making, but this analogy is somewhat inapt, and in an important way.

Here we have a situation where Democrats literally CAN fix the proverbial toilet. It is well within their means. As Jon Cohn says, it's just one lousy stinking roll call vote. That they refuse to act on this capability only undermines the notion that they actually agree that the toilet should work. The implication, I think, is more distressing than the notion that Democrats can't govern. It's that Democratic politicans pretend to agree with Democratic voters, but in fact, don't.

Posted by: RS22 | January 21, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I've been thinking about another Dem president who had a terrible debacle early in his first term, losing a chance to pass healthcare reform...yet had a very successful presidency. Bill Clinton had a hell of a time, and he came back.

Clinton always came back. He made some terrible mistakes, but when it mattered most, he was at his best. He learned to use the Republicans' overreaching and sheer stupidity against them, and Clinton gained great popularity as a worker for the people.

What worries me now is the Obama's peronality is very different from Clinton's. Clinton was a fighter. He rose to the challenge and didn't shy away from a fight.

Obama's cool and aloof style may be his downfall, his tragic flaw. (I hope I'm wrong.) But comments about waiting for Brown to arrive and letting "the dust settle" is about as wrongheaded a message as you could get. They say "he has a lot on his plate." What could possibly be more important right now than the big 800-pound turkey called health reform that's sitting on his plate right now.

Maybe he ought to have Clinton over for dinner. Somebody needs to tell Obama what he needs to do. He doesn't seem to have a clue.


Posted by: JJF44 | January 21, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

No Ezra. NOTHING is the most progressive base bill we will get. That's right the status quo is more progressive than forcing everyone to buy insurance and taxing middle class benefits. I wish we could get a Medicaid/Medicare expansion funded in a progressive manner. But if Democrats are unwilling to do that, then I and the working families I champion would prefer nothing.

Posted by: bmull | January 21, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand what confused notion the democrats are operating under. Look at how the Republicans are behaving. They will not pass one damn thing through the Senate now that they have cloture. The Republicans will drag all the little pieces out until Nov 2010.

3 days for every cloture vote, the Senate is completely broken. If it was conceivably possible that the piece could get through then they could pass a compromise. They can't.

It isn't like Republicans are going to be any more likely to cooperate now that their strategy is bearing fruit. They'll signal that they are ready to negotiate, draw negotiations out for a couple of months, declare the negotiations a failure, and the Democrats will walk away with nothing. Democratic legislators will walk away learning a valuable lesson: you can't trust the Republicans to play fair, honest, or honorably. Then they'll lose their jobs. 6 years from now, when the next batch gets elected, they won't remember and they'll repeat the same mistake.

Posted by: zosima | January 21, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

@JJF44

Clinton is remembered as a "good president", but he didn't make any progress on Progressive priorities. In fact, to avoid looking like a lame duck, he mainly passed terribly compromised legislation.

Moreover, with how much of a pushover Obama has been, don't expect him to veto whatever dumb things the Republicans pass.

If Democrats can't get their act together and pass the Senate bill, they are finished. They're probably still finished, but at least they'd have something to show for it.

Posted by: zosima | January 21, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

I cant understand how any House democrat who supports health care reform thinks that refusing to pass the Senate bill is a good idea. For all its faults, the Senate bill is now the only vehicle available to establish an infrastructure of universal health care. Once you have that infrastructure, you can improve upon it in future years and probably mostly through reconciliation so you will only need 50 senate votes. This has been the big Democratic Party promise for a long time now and they are just refusing to do it. I read Raul Grijalva's (Progressive Caucus chair) statement claiming the Senate bill is not an improvement upon the current situation, a statement which is as out of touch as any Martha Coakley gaffe. Reading between the lines, I think the real issue here is that the progressive caucus doesnt want the individual mandate-they have an ideological purity belief that people should not have to purchase insurance from private companies and they are ready to scuttle the whole enterprise over that. He wants to do reconciliation first and then do the popular regulatory measures in the Senate on a bipartisan basis, but I notice that he leaves out the individual mandate, without which the other regulatory measures will not work and will, therefore, not pass. The progressive caucus entirely misses the subtlety of the individual mandate. Many people are automatically exempted for affordability reasons. For the rest, all that happens if you do not purchase insurance because you think you cannot afford it is that you pay a tax of a much smaller affordable amount, much smaller than the cost of health insurance, in exchange for which you are guaranteed coverage later in the event of a sudden great need for insurance that you were previously not paying for. All that you are really required to do is pay a fee in exchange for the right to opt-in at any time and you get subsidies even then. How is that not a vast improvement upon the current situation? He complains of the Senate dealmaking-apparently having had a Major Renault moment-he is shocked to learn that deals have been made. Further, it is easy to get rid of the Nebraska compromise through reconciliation-even Nelson says it should go.

Posted by: gregspolitics | January 21, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

As for the excise tax, the agreement already reached on that can be implemented through reconciliation. I see no evidence that there are not 50 votes in the senate for implementing that.

Posted by: gregspolitics | January 21, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Klein is, as so often about health care, wrong. The third option is best, politically and pragmatically. A shorter, less bureaucratic, health care bill, emphasizing reforms, especially banning discrimination based on preexisting conditions, annual and lifetime limits for physical, mental health, to be go into effect within three months would be more popular and should be easily passed.

The Senate bill is overall hardly progressive at all. Fewer people would be insured within ten years.

Klein says he is concerned about how many people will needlessly die because they lack health care insurance. The Senate bill, by insuring fewer people and with reforms delayed a year longer than the weak House bill, will perpetuate this immense tragedy on a more vast scale.

Obama and Democrats in Congress should show some audacity, political courage in trying to achieve a better, more comprehensive health care bill after a scaled back bill is passed.
Include tort reform and provide affordable subsidies in reality, not false propaganda.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | January 21, 2010 7:21 PM | Report abuse

Public opinion polls on the "public option" show a majority in favor (ranging from 55 -70% in favor.) The public option is NOT a government takeover of healthcare but a move to a two-tier system like almost every other country has. It's comments such as the one above from WrongfulDeath that demonstrate that he and his non-elitist buddies don't give a whit what the people want, don't understand that the competitiveness of the U.S. is at stake, and want the "freedom agenda" to shoot themselves in the foot.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | January 21, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

I think people remember fondly the mid to late 90s and what a great team Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich made.

We have tried Rep Pres / Rep Congress. Rep Pres / Dem Congress, and Dem Pres / Dem Congress. All sucked. But, Dem President / Rep Congress was all right.

Divided government sounds best. You get the compassion of a Democratic President and a Congress willing to say "no" to excessive government spending and intrustion. Best of both worlds.

Posted by: sold2u | January 21, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

"The status quo is more progressive than forcing everyone to buy insurance and taxing middle class benefits. I wish we could get a Medicaid/Medicare expansion funded in a progressive manner. But if Democrats are unwilling to do that, then I and the working families I champion would prefer nothing."

What nonsense. Any form of universal healthcare involves forcing people to buy insurance, as Ezra has patiently demonstrated time and time again. Even single-payer does this, albeit through general taxes. If you would rather have nothing you're not championing anyone except yourself. It's easy to insist on perfection when you've already got healthcare, isn't it?

Posted by: altofront | January 21, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, you are still failing to deal with the reality of the situation. Many Democratic congressmen do not like the current bills. They think they are worse than nothing. They are relieved at the chance to back out of them. They'd like to do health care reform in theory, but in practice it isn't working and they want to stop.
Since you are convinced that the bills are much better than nothing, you think that every Democratic congressmen agrees with you. But they don't.
The bills were already right on the edge; Pelosi and Reid struggled to stretch their caucuses to fit them, pulling in those marginal congressmen. Now the margins have moved, and there aren't the votes.
This is why bipartisan bills are a good idea. You leave yourself some room.

Posted by: MikeR4 | January 21, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

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