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The day bipartisanship died


This is a good nugget tucked away in Peter Baker's profile of Rahm Emanuel:

At an August meeting in the Oval Office with the six leading Senate negotiators, three from each party, Grassley asked Obama if he would say publicly that he would be willing to sign a bill without a public option, according to Grassley aides. Obama demurred, knowing that would trigger a revolt among House Democrats. For his part, the president later told his own staff that he asked Grassley if he would support the health care plan if the president agreed to what the senator was asking for. As Obama later recalled the encounter, Grassley replied, “Probably not.” (Grassley aides dispute that Obama asked that question and they told me the senator said only that it would not be a bipartisan bill unless it had 70 or 80 votes.) Much later, both camps would cite this conversation as a turning point at which it became clear that there would be no significant bipartisan accord.

Nancy Pelosi kept pressing the White House to stop dealing with the Republicans. “It’s never going to happen,” a Democratic official quoted her as saying. “Grassley’s just going to wait you out and then pull the rug out from under you.” Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who succeeded Emanuel as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told me, “Some of us concluded much earlier than the White House that Senator Grassley and the two other Republicans had clearly made a decision that they were not going to participate in a meaningful way at the end.”

This post could also be called "why you should listen to Nancy Pelosi."

Photo credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 10, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
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Next: Don't pull back on stimulus


"As Obama later recalled the encounter, Grassley replied, 'Probably not.'"

Dear Mr President:

Welcome to the adult world of politics, you child.



Posted by: antontuffnell | March 10, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Well obviously she was right in this case, but it's not like the leader of the House Democrats is ever going to recommend listening to Senate Republicans.

Part of her job is to try to maximize her caucus's influence on legislation, and the administration is not wrong to be aware of that and take it into account.

(Though as a rule of thumb I'd take "listen to Nancy Pelosi" over "listen to Rahm Emmanuel" any day.)

Posted by: tps12 | March 10, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

The name of the game for the GOP, a/k/a the "Party of No!" is delay, delay, obstruct, misinform, distort. Because the Democrats are so segmented, Yellow Dogs, Blue Dogs, Progressives, Ultra Liberals, Moderates, each group which seems to have its own pet issues, which trumps the best interest of the people, we are now in this mess. At this point, the Democrats have to get their act together, and pass meaningful health insurance legislation, or many of them will be doomed in the upcoming elections. Doing nothing is not an option, it will not save them. This is the GOP plan, and it is simply amazing how well it has worked!

Posted by: atc333 | March 10, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

"This post could also be called 'why you should listen to Nancy Pelosi.'"

To which we all say, "duh".

But the problem is this: What do you do? The current situation is untenable. It's highly likely that majorities in one or both houses are going to be lost in November. And even if majorities are retained, the filibuster still exists.

I, for one, am not looking forward to seeing Congress' time sucked up by one witch-hunt investigation of the Executive Branch after another, which we will most assuredly see if Republicans get their knickers in a twist and feel like they can get away with it.

What's the answer? Go to war with Congress? Put a horse's head in Mitch McConnell's bed? (Beside the horse's ass that sleep there regularly, that is.) What's the solution?

Posted by: slag | March 10, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Tps, Her job is to get things done. If that means telling the President to work with the GOP, I hope she would do that. But if it is clear that the GOP wants no part of cooperation, her job is say to he11 with 'em. Given the current climate in Washington, that is her primary job right now.

Posted by: elijah24 | March 10, 2010 11:20 AM | Report abuse

It's a shame that this fall's elections may finally put a leader with some spine in charge of the senate, just as Pelosi is being relegated to minority leader.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 10, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The day that Bi-partisanship died was after Nancy Pelosi's speech prior to the House vote on the $787 Billion Bailout vote.

Obama never allowed Grassley to offer a market-rationing approach to healthcare reform, and told Republicans to jump in the lake when they insisted it had to be a plan that was "Single-payer-resistant"

We've seen the Jacob Hacker videos along with the videos of every leader in the Democratic party saying that they wanted single-payer BUT that they wouldn't be able to get it without tricking the public into voting for something else.

Obamacare = New federal powers to force bankruptcy on any and every insurance company in the USA!


Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 10, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Again, for the millionth time, almost a year ago the stimulus vote revealed the GOP's strategy of No to most Democrats outside of the Beltway. Meanwhile, Democrats inside the Beltway (with the exception of Pelosi) continued to fulsomely praise the bipartisanship of Grassley, Collins, and Snowe, to advocate for 60 votes over reconciliation in the Senate, and to echo the administration's negotiating the PO away before the fall votes.

Posted by: scarlota | March 10, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

No, Nancy Pelosi is hopelessly out of touch, just like the extremely conservative Repubs who preceeded her. She is part of the problem, not the solution. The sooner Obama starts ignoring and going around her the better off he will be. She is so far from the political mainstream it would take a massive telescope to find her

Posted by: craig18 | March 10, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I think a more appropriate title of the post should be called "Why the hell did it take until August to ask this to Grassley?" I mean -- someone long before August should have asked Grassley what he would be willing to give up for his vote? An employer mandate? Subjecting the self-insured to the minimum benefit packages? A stronger community rating to prevent some of the unfair age, occupational, etc. effects of capping the employer tax exclusion? This should have been figured out in June when the other relevant committees were considering their bills.

Posted by: moronjim | March 10, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse


Here is the reason to ignore Nancy Pelosi on this issue (mind you I have a lot of love for the speaker).

I think Obama has fooled us all. He IS going to have his cake and eat it too. By this I mean that the historical trend in politics is to try something hard and if it gets really bad for your chances of getting reelected then stop and try something else.

The one trait I have noticed in the President is an unbelievable amount of tenacity. No mater how things look, no mater the ups and downs he keeps going and never relents on the overall goal. In this case it is "We will pass health care reform". But in times past it was the stimulus or even winning the primary.

His relentless ability to endure punishment, and keep fighting is something more subtle than his ability to give a grand sweeping speech. This tenacity is thus masked by his eloquence. It is, however, the trait I have come to value most in his leadership.

Despite the oppositions desire for us to talk about how the stimulus failed, we are instead watching as a Republican senator elected to kill the "super-majority" is voting to break filibusters and advance more stimulus bills.

If we can all keep up the fight as well as the administration is, we will be talking about extending subsidies, adding other options to the exchanges (maybe even a public one), and further controlling costs two years from now.

But here is the little secret that nobody seems to be seeing..... while we are passing the important bills of today Obama has set established the first steps of his goal to change the tone in Washington. He has offered the other side a path to success, and they slapped his hand. That doesn't mean he has failed. When we pass health care, and people start to understand whats in it, and thus like it, The hand slappers will have a hard time taking credit for it.

Sooner or later, enough victories big and small (health care I, II, III, etc), and the strategy of endless, unprincipled opposition will STOP paying dividends.

The path forward is clear, the President has been telling us what that path is if only we would listen. Work on the right issue, even if you don't have exactly the right bill. Pursue victory even through hardship, and persist persist persist.

Posted by: chrynoble | March 10, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Here's the thing. Let's assume that Pelosi was right, and the Republicans weren't interested in working with the Obama administration ever. How does this whole thing play out?

I'd say that folks would perceive Republicans' refusal to participate as fair if the administration and Democratic majorities were seen as overreaching. In the current climate, folks see the Republicans as not willing to cooperate. I think that Obama's instincts weren't neccessarily bad on this one.

Posted by: rpy1 | March 10, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

This is illustrative of what I thought was Hillary Clinton's most compelling argument against Barack Obama (and I say this as an Obama supporter in the primary). That is, he lacks (or lacked) the cold, calculating cynicism and ruthlessness necessary to get things done in Washington. He's plenty smart enough, informed on the policy, hard-working enough, etc. He just doesn't have the jaded political instincts needed to work with the scum in Congress. The grand experiment of "bringing people together" has failed -- you tried, but hopefully you've learned your lesson Mr. President. People won't "come together to solve problems" when that's diametrically opposed to their own political fortunes (and yes, this is true of both parties to some extent when they are in the minority). Just ain't happening. Sure, they might play along, but only long enough to find the opportunity to kick you in the teeth and rub your face in the mud.

Posted by: vvf2 | March 10, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

"The sooner Obama starts ignoring and going around her the better off he will be."

Ridiculous. Obama obviously has been ignoring her. But she's Speaker of the House. There is no going around her.

Posted by: slag | March 10, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

She deserves a lot of the criticisms levelled at her, but you can't say with a straight face that a Republican in her position wouldn't be behaving precisely the same way, if not more negatively.

Posted by: groucho_smith | March 10, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I think a lot of Dem Senators believed that the Republicans might be acting badly for a little while, but when they settled into their minority status, they'd be fine. I think they felt it was OK to ignore Pelosi's warnings because when you compare the Senate's behavior on the bailout bill to the House's behavior on it, it's pretty clear that people who believed the Senate would put party aside and act like grownups in a crisis (as opposed to the House) had a case to make. So, why wouldn't that grownup behavior extend to the process of crafting a very moderate-to-conservative bill on a critically important long-term issue?

But I think the extraordinary bad faith shown on this issue, from people they didn't expect to see it from, has shown Democratic legislators that the Senate isn't what they thought it was.

What they're seeing now is that the Senate can't legislate responsibly outside of immediate crisis (and I think a lot of people wonder if that will be true next time). Healthcare spending is a truly big deal, this bill makes it better, and there should be Republican votes for this bill. It's just crazy that there's none, and that Republican obstruction has made this bill less fiscally responsible.

That's the intellectual case. Beyond that, I think a lot of less intellectual Senators feel very personally played. They feel like idiots. The Senate isn't supposed to need House-style rules because Senators don't behave like those little kids in the House. Everything from death panels to astroturfed town halls to Shelby's blanket hold to right now Mitch McConnell's unbelievable mendaciousness in his self-righteous rants against reconciliation--I think they're embarrassed. The Senate's mutually-assured-destruction parliamentary system isn't working anymore: it's letting the most rogue and ruthless elements hijack the process, not getting members to behave in a high-minded way. Pelosi was right. They're no better than House members. How devastating.

The President's contribution to this process was to give the Republicans rope. He couldn't fix the Senate single-handedly. If the Senate had worked, he could have worked with it. But the Senate didn't work, so all he could do in terms of process was expose that. Nobody can blame this failure on him; it's clearly Senate dysfunction dragging out this process and driving everyone's poll numbers down.

I think, all in all, that this is better than the 90's, when everyone pretended the problem was Clinton, as opposed to the institutions. Now they can't deny something is truly rotten in the district of Washington.

Posted by: theorajones1 | March 10, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

The President's contribution to this process was to give the Republicans rope. He couldn't fix the Senate single-handedly. If the Senate had worked, he could have worked with it. But the Senate didn't work, so all he could do in terms of process was expose that.
Thank you, theorajones1 -- this is what I was trying to put together in my post above.

Posted by: rpy1 | March 10, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

If you've ever spent any time trying to organize a significant number of people to do anything, then you know that it is not only often an agonizingly slow process, but also it is a process that generally speaking cannot be significantly accelerated just because observers are becoming impatient.

Amazing how many political geeks don't get it.

Posted by: burientopteam | March 10, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

I would place the date that bipartisanship died as Monday, September 29, 2008, the day of the first TARP vote in the House when Nancy Pelosi took to the podium and knifed the Republicans who were going to vote in favor of the bill in the back.

Posted by: bgmma50 | March 11, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

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