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Applying negotiation theory to health-care reform

"The most basic predicate for success in any negotiation," writes Gerald Seib, "[is] that both sides, at the outset, think reaching an agreement is preferable to failing to reach an agreement." As he notes, that isn't true for tomorrow's negotiations, and so they're not likely to be successful. Katie Connolly c himes in:

In negotiation parlance, they call that a BATNA: the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. To figure out how your opponents will act, you need to understand the outcome they envision if the negotiation fails — that is, at what point can they happily walk away. The Democrats' BATNA is that they continue along the path they've been heading: have the House pass the Senate bill and make fixes like those the White House offered on Monday through the budget-reconciliation process in the Senate, where they will need only 51 votes.

The Republican BATNA is that health-care reform fails. The summit doesn't sway any of their members or any of those Democrats who have been hedging their bets, and the bill just limps toward death. More important, it's not clear that they'd prefer a negotiated outcome to their BATNA. If they successfully negotiate for the inclusion of some of their signature items — say, for example, medical-malpractice reform — they might feel compelled to vote in favor of reform. That hands the president and his congressional allies an enormous win and undermines their yearlong project of attacking Democratic reform initiatives.

This is the most important fact to understand about the modern legislative environment: The minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 24, 2010; 4:04 PM ET
 
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Comments

Are there structural changes we can implement so that voters will reward minority legislators who fight for a negotiated success? If we listed each congressmen's voting record with the plain text of the bills, would this lead to better decision making by voters?

Posted by: murtha11 | February 24, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Yes, yes -- but isn't the starting assumption wrong? The negotiation over health care was, of course, never really between Republicans and Democrats. It was between Democratic moderates/conservatives/"centrists" and Democratic progressives/liberals. We can apply normal negotiating theory to that face-off.

Posted by: ahpolitics | February 24, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

The Rs made this clear from the beginning -- "break" Obama, his Waterloo. But the Dems, having no brain and no balls, started with compromised and rolled over to surrender. And their idiocy will be punished in Nov.

Posted by: AZProgressive | February 24, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

Why should anyone negotiate with thieves, scoundrels, and liars? The entire notion that government has some business with the health care of the nation is illegitimate from the start.

Posted by: msoja | February 24, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

What AZProgressive said. This has been painfully obvious to many of use since the stimulus debate and vote. Waterloo, indeed.

Posted by: scarlota | February 24, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

"The minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure..."

This is only the case because the Dems messaging machine is incapable of refuting the GOPs nonsensical talking points and the media is afraid of sounding liberal by calling Republican lies Republican lies.

The dems could have behaved in the same manner as the Republicans when they were in the minority, but they were afraid to be seen as obstructionist. The Republicans have no such fear.

Posted by: nisleib | February 24, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Democrats haven't been compromising with Republicans -- and that's fine. What's been happening is that more liberal Democrats have been compromising with less liberal Democrats. That's what the last 9 months have been about, from Baucus to Lieberman to Nelson. If this was about Democrats trying to compromise with Republicans, they wouldn't be worried about holding together their 59-60-member caucus; they'd have that in the bag, and then they'd be looking to further compromise to pick off some Republicans. But we've never even gotten to that point.

And in some cases, this process hasn't had clear ideological valence: it's been some Democrats beholden to certain interests groups within the broad Democratic electoral coalition compromising with other Democrats who are beholden to different Democratic interest groups -- i.e. the negotiations over the excise tax, which involves complaints from unions.

Posted by: ahpolitics | February 24, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

msoja - Of course the government should be involved with health care, read the preamble of the constitution.

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

What do you think "General Welfare" is refering to?

If you can justify the governement paying for the military then you can justify the government paying for health care.

Posted by: nisleib | February 24, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

This notion that the Democrats haven't been compromising with Republicans is utter nonsense. The entire point of the Gang of Six and President Obama's constant fetishization of bipartisanship was to attract some degree of Republican support. If inclusion of some pet project would have brought just Olympia Snowe onboard, it would have been in the bills.

The Democrats have only worked out *actual* compromises with the more conservative members of their caucus because Republicans made it clear that there were no compromises which would bring them on board to vote for cloture, let along for the bill itself.

That one side refuses to participte in the debate does not mean that the other side hasn't presented compromise options in an attempt to court them or tried to involve them in the process.

Posted by: MosBen | February 24, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Come on nisleib, the government shouldn't be involved in healthcare at all. Companies should be permitted to sell snake oil remedies which not only cure no diseases, but create new diseases in the patient to be addressed by their magical spirit stones. Also, doctors should require no formal education. A thoughtful mind is enough to practice medicine. Moreover, they should be allowed to lie about their credentials when asked by a patient.

Yes! And not only should there be no excessive malpractice law suits, but there should be no courts in which patients might bring any suits to begin with!

Forget Paul Ryan, the *real* Republican proposals should involve eliminating government regulations on roads, because ambulance drivers can get to the hospital on their own without Big Brother looking over their shoulder!

Posted by: MosBen | February 24, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

You cannot negotiate with people whose primary goal is your extinction.
The Republicans have made it every clear that the good of the American people takes a back seat to their dream of a "permanent Republican majority." The only way to deal with these people is to show them exactly what it REALLY means to have a bill "shoved down their throats."
You know, the way they weren't afraid to do when they were in power. But none of the Dems have the stones to do that.

Posted by: dustyrhoades | February 24, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse

MosBen,

But wasn't the Democratic leadership only trying to woo Snowe because conservative Democratic members made it be known that a condition for their voting in favor of the bill was that Democrats be seen as at least trying very hard to compromise with Republicans? Thus the people placing the bipartisanship condition on the whole negotiation were less liberal Democrats. This was less liberal Democrats negotiating with more liberal Democrats. This pissed off more liberal Democrats, but they went along with it because what else could they do after it became clear that a) 60 votes for cloture would be needed and b) those less liberal Democrats weren't bluffing -- they would in fact vote no.

Posted by: ahpolitics | February 24, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I'm making this distinction because it allows us to rightfully blame less liberal Democrats (and especially the handful of self-styled "centrists"), rather than having some delusion that it was Republicans laying down a condition and "forcing" the Democrats to compromise.

Posted by: ahpolitics | February 24, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

It would be nice it politicians started caring about us patients, instead of the next election.

Posted by: Patient1 | February 24, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

That's what the health-care summit is about -- it's actually a veiled negotiation (a true negotiation) between liberal and much-less-liberal Democrats, a dance of optics meant to change the minds of some non-liberal Democrats who are now back on the fence. It's never actually been about successfully wooing Republicans, despite the rhetoric.

Ezra's post here makes it seem as if we should all be surprised that the rhetoric surrounding the summit is disingenuous.

Posted by: ahpolitics | February 24, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

MosBen - I stand corrected.

When did America turn into a Kleptocracy?

Ann Rand, whom Republicans like to say they love, spent a good bit of Atlas Shrugged complaining about what she termed "looters." Well, today the GOP is the party of looters. (If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged don't bother, it is preachy, selfish drivel.)

Posted by: nisleib | February 24, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

nisleib - The powers of the U.S. government are enumerated in the Constitution. Those not so enumerated are reserved to the states or to the people. The phrase "provide for the ... general welfare" was not meant as a license for general action.

Read here:

http://www.freelythinking.com/genwel.htm

Posted by: msoja | February 24, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

//begin cite
It has been urged and echoed, that the power "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States," amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their stooping to such a misconstruction. Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution, than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some color for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases.
//end cite
James Madison, The Federalist Papers: No. 41
http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed41.asp

Posted by: msoja | February 24, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

"The minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure."

Jobs bill. 70 votes.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 24, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

So the real question is again one of collective action. In negotiation theory the strategy isn't just to understand the BATNA of the other side it's to try to affect it. So if you're the Democrats what you want to do is make their best alternative the Democrats passing something through reconciliation. If you can credibly threaten that then maybe for some moderate Republicans the best alternative is being on a moderate bill. It's all how credibly you can threaten that. If the choice is negotiation or no bill, sure they take no bill. But if it's negotiation or reconciliation... maybe they negotiate. I don't think that'll happen... just think it's an interesting wrinkle.

Posted by: tgates573 | February 24, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

msoja Congress already passed an income tax to cover health care. In 1798. First income tax in the USA. Used it to build hospitals for merchant seamen. Congress included some of the Framers and John Adams signed it. No Constitutional problem then either.

Posted by: steveh46 | February 24, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

You're correct, but miss the point. The summit is not about actual negotiation (nor should it be, for the reasons you mentioned). It's about winning the public debate. It has the same purpose as putting the Q & A with Republicans on TV: wear the white hat, show goodwill, and demonstrate that negotiation is impossible in order to justify the reconciliation fix.

Posted by: thomas_miller | February 24, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

steveh46 - It didn't take long for the meddlers to get busy, did it?

Adams also signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, another disgrace.

Posted by: msoja | February 24, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

"The minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure."

Jobs bill. 70 votes."


...including 6 Republicans who voted for a filibuster and then voted yes on the bill itself.

So ... wait ... when Republicans vote not to vote on a thing ... that they actually support ... what DOES that mean?

I'm really confused. Please explain their thinking. I want to understand.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 24, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

--"I'm really confused."--

They're politicians, Patrick_M, and corrupt, like you. Voting over the disposition of other people's assets is the past time of thieves.

Posted by: msoja | February 24, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

msoja,

6 people vote yes to something...

AFTER

voting not to allow a vote.

Why does this happen?

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 24, 2010 7:02 PM | Report abuse

--"Why does this happen?"--

I told you that that is the proverbial honor of thieves, and it isn't restricted to one side of the aisle, nor can you divorce yourself from the taint of it, as enthralled as you are with the procedural legality of the larceny that you suppose redounds to your benefit.

Posted by: msoja | February 24, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

The federal government has had the power to raise taxes and regulate interstate commerce for centuries now. This is settled law. Whether you want to argue that it's not necessary for the federal government to get involved in the healthcare system *in the ways proposed in the current bills* (because it's been involved in the healthcare system for decades if not centuries), well that's another story. The argument about whether being involved in healthcare in constitutional or appropriate in any way has been long settled.

Posted by: MosBen | February 24, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

msoja-

Ok, then. The Republicans who voted for the fillibuster, and then voted YES for the same bill they had just tried to fillibuster, did so because they are "thieves" (just like me).

Hmmm ... now is this actually an answer of any kind to the question...?

I still don't understand why the "thieves" vote against holding a vote for something they vote for -- and you seem unable to explain the logic of the thieves. So I am not any further along than before you tried to help me out.

But perhaps we might find a clue to this riddle within the original comment to which I replied:

"The minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure."

So ... on that theory, REPUBLICAN PLAYBOOK = even if you believe the bill is good for the people, it is better to try and kill it (just to obstruct for partisan political gain). Then, if that strategy fails, vote for the good bill and hope that nobody notices the hypocrisy that you were for the bill after you were against it.

See? That's what an answer looks like.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 24, 2010 10:55 PM | Report abuse

"I'm really confused. Please explain their thinking. I want to understand."

My Vulcan mind meld is not working at the moment. But the vote pretty much annhiliates Ezra's assertion that the minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 24, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

"My Vulcan mind meld is not working at the moment."

Evidently not.

I pointed out the half of the Republican YES votes had previously voted to BLOCK a vote altogether.

So half of the Republicans who supported the bill first tried to make the majority look like an unmitigated failure, by not letting the bill come to a vote.

That only half of the Republicans did that is progress of a sort, but hardly proof that obstructionism has vanished.

You can't explain voting against having a vote, and then voting for the bill when there is a vote, as anything but putting partisan obstruction of the other party's agenda over good public policy.

Or can you? If so, bgmma50, please walk me through it. I am here to learn.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 24, 2010 11:29 PM | Report abuse

More like the Repubs don't want to vote against more stimulus and then be called hypocrites again for spending it again, with fanfare, back in their districts. It has nothing do with bipartisanship. They may have an idiotic economic theory, but in addition they are intellectually corrupt.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | February 24, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Lee,

Yes. And it is good to see Obama finally pointing out how the Republican turn up for all the photo ops at all the ribbon cutting ceremonies and brag to their constituents about the very stimulus projects that they voted against.

You can make a valid argument for voting to allow a vote on a bill you oppose ("I don't like this bill, but it deserves an up or down vote"), but nobody here (5 hours after I raised the question) has even tried to offer a logical reason for a responsible rationale for why anyone would vote to defeat a bill without a vote ... and then vote for the bill ... as anything other than unmitigated partisan hypocrisy.

And the Republicans have done this again and again.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 24, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

--"And the Republicans have done this again and again."--

Are you saying that Democrats haven't done similar things in the past?

How stupid are you?

Posted by: msoja | February 25, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

msoja,

OK, prove to the world just how stupid I am.

Tell me (exactly) when it happened in the past that the Democrats were the minority party in the Senate, and they voted as many times during a single year to fillibuster legislation, compared with total Republican fillibusters since Obama's inauguration.

Then, scholarly one, please also point out examples of when those same Democrats who voted for the record number of fillibusters ALSO went on to vote IN FAVOR of the very legislation they had tried to block, following cloture of debate.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 25, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

"The Republican BATNA is that health-care reform fails."
Gerald F. Seib, Wall Street Journal

"The minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure."
Ezra Klein, Washington Post

Neither of these assertions has been even partially refuted here by any comment in this thread, and I'll be shocked if the credibility of either assertion will be weakened in the slightest by the behavior of the Republicans during the summit that begins in a few hours.

About this, I would love to be wrong, but I'd love to see world peace in 2010 too. Ain't gonna happen.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 25, 2010 1:58 AM | Report abuse

--"Tell me (exactly) when it happened in the past that the Democrats were the minority party in the Senate, and they voted as many times during a single year to fillibuster legislation, compared with total Republican fillibusters since Obama's inauguration."--

That's not what you wanted to know earlier, is it? Stupid.

No, I can't meet your new criteria, but it's easy to find examples of democrats voting against cloture, losing, then voting for the bill.

Start here:
http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/cloture_motions/clotureCounts.htm

Pick a session where the GOP held sway. I picked the 108th:

http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/cloture_motions/108.htm

Then look for close (or not so close!) votes to end cloture. I picked Senate bill 150. Several Democrat Senators, including The Rodhamster, voted against cloture, but for the bill.

Posted by: msoja | February 25, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

--"Neither of these assertions has been even partially refuted"--

One can't refute gibberish. Neither have they been supported, except by assertion. Any opinion one way or the other is just that, opinion.

Posted by: msoja | February 25, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

"The minority does not prefer a negotiated success to making the majority look like an unmitigated failure." Totally missing the point. The conservative point of view is that these bills are very harmful. Of course we want them to fail. You don't agree, but we knew that.

Posted by: MikeR4 | February 25, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

"That's not what you wanted to know earlier, is it? Stupid."

Actually, yes that is what I wanted to know.

The topic is the "negotiation" posture of the Republicans, and whether obstruction of the majority party's agenda is the primary goal -- in other words, the "the best alternative to a negotiated agreement" (BATNA).

That is why the unprecedented use of the filibuster (the ultimate obstructionist tactic) is worthy of note.

Secondly, the fact that Republicans ROUTINELY vote IN FAVOR of Democratic legislation when their filibusters fail, is further evidence that they regard obstruction as more important than good public policy.

Evidently you concede that the Republican use of the filibuster in the current session of Congress is unprecedented.

"I picked Senate bill 150. Several Democrat Senators, including The Rodhamster, voted against cloture, but for the bill."

One bill and several Senators. Did the several Senators value obstruction over policy in that instance? Absolutely, I suppose that is true. But you have failed to show anything approaching the ROUTINE PATTERN of obstruction as the "BATNA" of the minority party that we have seen from the Republicans since the inauguration of President Obama.

That has been the Republican BATNA on health care, and we are seeing it again right now on live television from Blair House.

"Any opinion one way or the other is just that, opinion."

To quote the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan:

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

Some opinions can be supported by objective facts. Others...not so much.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 25, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

--"nobody here (5 hours after I raised the question) has even tried to offer a logical reason for a responsible rationale for why anyone would vote to defeat a bill without a vote ... and then vote for the bill ... as anything other than unmitigated partisan hypocrisy."--

Politicians are hypocrites at the least, and criminals, if you're honest. Your reliance on them to get things you want amounts to collusion in criminal behavior.

Oh, and you're a moron, too.

Posted by: msoja | February 25, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

"Politicians are hypocrites at the least, and criminals, if you're honest. Your reliance on them to get things you want amounts to collusion in criminal behavior."

When citizens rely on their elected representatives to "get" the things they want, that amounts to D-E-M-O-C-R-A-C-Y.

"Oh, and you're a moron, too."

Have a nice day.

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 25, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

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