Policy compromise is easy. Political compromise is impossible.
If you want to see why bipartisan compromise on health-care reform is impossible, read this article by David Herszenhorn. The article's thesis, to be sure, is not that bipartisanship is impossible. In fact, its intention is to imagine how Democrats could "rewrite the bill in such a way that lawmakers in both parties would find it virtually irresistible." It just can't figure it out.
First, it asks retiring, knowledgeable conservatives about where the two parties could compromise. The reply? High-risk pools and selling insurance across state lines. It's true that the two parties could compromise on those issues. In fact, they did, and the Senate bill includes versions of both policies. That compromise may or may not be good enough. In any case, neither policy matters very much. The Republican health-care bill included both ideas, and the CBO scored it as leaving 52 million Americans uninsured. As Herszenhorn says, it would "barely make a dent."
The policy was so poor because the Republican leadership decided against doing anything about coverage. They were worried it would make the plan look too expensive, which would muck up their messaging. And that's been a problem the whole way through. "In private conversations," reports Herszenhorn, "with reporters or with colleagues, all of these lawmakers acknowledge that their efforts to work on health care have been hampered by Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress who are focused on the political ground game."
Herszenhorn also brings up the Wyden-Bennett bill. But he neglects to note that Republicans evinced no interest in pushing the bill this year or importing any of its elements to the health-care reform bill.
So that's where we're left: The policies that Republicans are willing to compromise on are meaningless, and arguably already included in the bill. Beyond that, the GOP's leadership is against further compromises because total opposition fits better with the electoral ground game. And they're probably right about that.
At the end of the article, Herszenhorn brings up the compromise proposal developed by Tom Daschle, Howard Baker and Bob Dole. That's two Republican Senate leaders and one Democrat, for those keeping count. It's pretty similar to Obama's proposal, he says.
And that's the underlying reality of health-care reform. Substantive compromise is easy. In fact, the bill is a substantive compromise. It's a deficit-neutral, universal-coverage scheme that relies on the private insurance market and looks like one of the Republican alternatives from 1994. What's hard is political compromise. Because there, the two positions are that Democrats are helped if a bill passes and Republicans make gains if a bill fails. There's no way to split the difference between those positions.
Photo credit: By Mark Wilson/Getty Images
February 2, 2010; 1:42 PM ET
Categories: Health Reform
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