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Could LBJ have passed health-care reform in 2010?

Earlier today, I was asked whether LBJ could've passed the health-care reform bill with more ease and grace. I don't really think so, though maybe he would've sped the process a bit. But here's what I do wonder.

LBJ operated in a world where the filibuster was not relevant to most policy initiatives (the major exception being civil rights). When his aides were crafting their Medicare strategy, for instance, the filibuster was not a consideration. But while Medicare experienced some close calls en route to passage, it did pick up a dozen or so Republicans in the final vote.

Some of that, of course, reflects historical differences in the two parties. The Republicans had a wing of Northeastern liberals that have long since become Democrats. The Democrats had conservative Southerners who've long since become Republicans. But is some of it legislative strategy, too?

In a world with no filibuster, where a particular bill's passage is close to assured, how frequently can the opposition party simply sit on its hands? Eventually, interest groups and constituents will become annoyed that no one is representing them. But in a world with the filibuster, where the smart bet is always against passage, then the opposition can aim to kill the bill rather than get their ideas into it because some interest groups and constituents would like to see the bill killed and their allies returned to the majority.

There are other forces here, of course. There will always be partisans who demand unyielding opposition, and they can launch primary challenges and run pressure campaigns. But it's hard for me to believe that a world where obstruction is not substantively effective -- a world in which it does not routinely block bills or make the majority look incompetent -- is a world where it remains the favored strategy. Conversely, I believe that a world in which obstruction is effective is a world in which it remains the dominant minority strategy.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 17, 2010; 5:54 PM ET
Categories:  Congress  
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Comments

And yet it is possible that the Republithugs crazed obstructionism will wind up costing them things which would clearly have been avoided if they had been willing to participate in the process - I am thinking in particular of the proposed Medicare tax on unearned income, which might serve as a 'camel's nose' under the tent to begin to deal with the gross inequities of the tax system in the treatment of ordinary people's income as opposed to that of our overlords.

Posted by: exgovgirl | March 17, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

It is not true that the filibuster was not a factor for Johnson. He had 68 Democrats and he needed 67 for cloture. The problem is the power of corporations today which is destroying our democracy.

Posted by: bmull | March 17, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Johnson for all his imperial faults and disastrous foreign policies, especially in Vietnam, would have signed a health care bill six months ago.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | March 18, 2010 1:45 AM | Report abuse

He was more interested in fighting communism abroad than establishing it here.

Posted by: truck1 | March 18, 2010 3:05 AM | Report abuse

Could LBJ have passed HCR in 2010? Would he have had the 68 vote majority in the Senate or the 60-59 vote majority Obama's had? Seems like a fairly relevant factor to be able to let a few of your folks vote no.

Posted by: ramboorider | March 18, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

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