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The trial of Bob Bennett

bennettprimary.JPGOver the course of the health-care reform debate, no one confused me more than Sen. Bob Bennett. As co-sponsor of Wyden-Bennett, Bennett was clearly concerned about the issue and knowledgeable its particulars. And he could see -- as we all could -- that the Senate bill looked a lot like an incremental version of Wyden-Bennett. Not exactly, of course. But substantially. And there was no doubt that Bennett could make up most of the difference if he decided to come to the table and negotiate.

But he didn't. He sounded just like every other Republican on the issue. Whenever I asked why, I was told he was facing a primary in Utah, and it could get really bad for him. I laughed this off. He's a conservative, son of a Utah senator, and grandson of a president of the Church of Latter-day Saints. How much trouble could he be in?

A lot, as it turns out. In fact, Bennett looks likely to lose primary. And the main example of his perfidy? Cooperating with a Democratic senator to develop a market-driven universal health-care proposal that would've covered every American with private insurance and abolished Medicaid.

Bennett isn't a liberal. He's not even a moderate. But he's a legislator: He's willing to work with the other side to get things done. And he's paying for it now.

The result of this isn't just that Bob Bennett might lose his seat. It's that other legislators will stop legislating. It's that all Bennett's friends will see what happened to their old colleague and go pale. It's that compromise will become too dangerous to seriously contemplate, and so the possibility for compromise will become even more remote.

At some point, maybe this is a good thing. If compromise is impossible, better that we just get some loons into the Senate and admit the institution's modern composition and lift the strictures on majority action. But let's at least call this what it is: Bennett is not in trouble because he is a liberal. He's in trouble because he's a legislator. If the Republican Party kicks him out, then that is as clear and final a statement that they have no interest in good-faith cooperation as you could ask for.

Photo credit: Harry Hamburg/AP.

By Ezra Klein  |  April 27, 2010; 5:36 PM ET
Categories:  2010 Midterms  
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Comments

The biggest problem is that Utah is a one-party state, essentially. If the GOP wants to dump Bennett because he cooperated with the Dems, some even more conservative loon will win. In Florida there is at least some chance that a Dem could win in a 2 or even 3-party race.

If the country keeps choosing people who want to grandstand and not legislate, and who have little or no grasp of policy, what's going to happen? We are not going to be able to solve problems, and will devolve into a sort of Wild West, survivalist culture, I suppose, and the rest of the world won't want much to do with us. Which would suit the tea partiers fine, I suppose.

What the hell happened to this country? Maybe the Birchers were right about fluoride.

Posted by: Mimikatz | April 27, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Hi,

You are wrong about HCR being "an example of Bennett's perfidity." To far-right in Utah, example a) is voting for financial bailout, b) is supporting judicial nominees (ginsberg, sotomayor), and c) is more generally having the "wrong attitude," that is, professing to want to work with Dems, not questioning Obama's citizenship, and generally not sounding fringy.

I agree that what's happening to Bennett is a tragedy, but it's wrong to attribute it to his cooperation with Wyden.

Posted by: mkindc | April 27, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm all for it, send in the clowns!

I hope John McCain also loses out in the new police state of Arizona to Hayworth while we're at it.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | April 27, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

"He sounded just like every other Republican on the issue. Whenever I asked why, I was told he was facing a primary in Utah, and it could get really bad for him."

This sums up the situation we face as a nation. "I can't possibly enact legislation that is for the good of the country. I HAVE to be reelected.

Posted by: dpcret93 | April 27, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

If you like to legislate but can't because you'll lose your job, what's so bad about pushing through some legislation and then losing reelection?after all, your senate job only pays about $150k/yr. Unless you just love the senate for its own sake (but you like legislating, right?), you might as well go out in a blaze of legislative glory and then cash in after losing your seat.

Posted by: tyromania | April 27, 2010 8:47 PM | Report abuse

If you like to legislate but can't because you'll lose your job, what's so bad about pushing through some legislation and then losing reelection?after all, your senate job only pays about $150k/yr. Unless you just love the senate for its own sake (but you like legislating, right?), you might as well go out in a blaze of legislative glory and then cash in after losing your seat.

Posted by: tyromania | April 27, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

" I laughed this off. He's a conservative, son of a Utah senator, and grandson of a president of the Church of Latter-day Saints. How much trouble could he be in?"

Wait a minute, Ez. You mean with all your self-professed polilitical expertise and economic intelligence ... you were wrong about some basic on-the-ground practicalities?

Truth be told, you're gonna be mighty surprised at how wrong you and your fellow libs were once the pricetag for this mess comes in, services are reduced, and America indeed is forced to ration medical treatment because you dumb kids though you could have the world ... without a plan to pay for it.

Because, you're plan to push these premium charges off on some non-using individual ... why don't you take that economic intelligence intstead, and introduce it to the real world in terms of non-profit charity care.

That's how so many nuns -- surely less educated that you and yours? -- started the first hospitals in so many communities. They took what they had -- a house, some beds, lots of love and caring -- and gave what they could.

They didn't promise everybody free ponies and then pass on the bill to their healthy neighbors, who weren't stupid enough to make such silly promises in the first place...

Posted by: Mary42 | April 27, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

"I can't possibly enact legislation that is for the good of the country. I HAVE to be reelected."

By voting NO, you reject a poorly crafted bill, and you send the big boys back to the table to come up with something better.

Too bad the Dems didn't have the courage to do what the WHOLE country needed. Instead, they were pandering to their weaker constitutents, who will now receive free pills and amputations for their diabetes until the end of time (for their children too! Get those saws ready!) instead of learning to face the consequences of poor habits in hopes of changing them. See -- that's what a nun would have worked for -- a whole body/lifestyle change, not just a "freebie" amputation or two, courtesy of other non-treating taxpayers.

And don't even get me started on who's premium money will be paying for those abortions, once we realize that the consequences of conception are easily removed too ... for free.

Is this a great country or what?

Posted by: Mary42 | April 27, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Mary42, people just loooove to get free amputations, especially when they're free. It's only when they have to file for bankruptcy afterwards that they learn their lesson.

Seriously, Mary, do you ever listen to yourself?

Posted by: tyromania | April 27, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

If the Republican Party kicks him out, then that is as clear and final a statement that they have no interest in good-faith cooperation as you could ask for.

The current Republican party seems to have no good-faith interest in governing, whether they are in power or out. We need a new right-of-center party, one that actually thinks, has intellectual capital, and is not totally enclosed and echoey. So the Tea Party clearly isn't it.

Posted by: RalfW | April 28, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

who cares... it is Utah where magic underwear and talking Salamanders serve as the underlying dynamic. Let them eat their Cocoa Puffs.

Posted by: Geopolitics101 | April 28, 2010 12:02 AM | Report abuse

"That's how so many nuns -- surely less educated that you and yours? -- started the first hospitals in so many communities. They took what they had -- a house, some beds, lots of love and caring -- and gave what they could."

And I'll bet the sisters were rewarded with a bounty of poultry from their bartering patients.

"By voting NO, you reject a poorly crafted bill, and you send the big boys back to the table to come up with something better."

Ground Control to Mary42: Bennett did vote no. He is being punished for having worked on a bipartisan alternative. He rolled up his sleeves, acted like a big boy, and tried to come up with something better, rather than just trying to obstruct. But in the end, his actual vote on health care reform was exactly the same NO as every other Republican in the Senate.

I hope that every time a Republican is up for re-election, he or she gets a successful primary challenge from the tin foil hat crowd on the right. That way the Republicans in the Senate will just get less politically sophisticated every two years. None of them will ever acquire seniority, they'll just flip coins and draw straws for their assignments.

Great plan, tea partiers. After Bennett, let's take down that notorous Utah socialist, Orrin Hatch!

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 28, 2010 12:28 AM | Report abuse

It's time for a new party of Republicans who are actually interested in governing. Throw McCain in there if he loses his primary; throw Bennett in there if he loses his; throw Crist in there if/when he loses his; etc. Heck, they could take Lieberman while they're at it, if they want critical mass. Do those Senators realize how much power they would wield, positioned to make or break filibusters?

Posted by: jeffwacker | April 28, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Ezra,

I like your blog and agree with most of your analysis of hcr, finreg, etc. I work in the public policy arena and find that your conclusions about the merit of certain legislation on the federal level to be truthful and grounded in science, not partisanship or ideology. (As opposed to many journalists, pundits, and entertainers like Glenn Beck and Olbermann). I think you're spot-on with Bennett. He is a legislator who fell victim to the GOP's greed/stronghold in Utah.

I'm also LDS (aka Mormon) and occasionally find myself an outsider when it comes to my political beliefs when I'm around some friends at church. Many in the church think that you cannot be a good Mormon and a Democrat. But what many do not know (or want to believe), is that there are many leaders in the church who are Democrats, including recent and current members of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Seventy who are Democrats.

A quick example: I remember sitting in a Utah Senate committee room a couple of years ago when I was in town for a conference and heard the senators debate a bill nearly identical to the immigration bill that just passed in Arizona. It looked like the bill had enough support to make it out of committee until Marlin K. Jensen, a Democrat and the LDS Church's public affairs spokesman spoke out against the bill, calling it anti-family and unchristian. I was so glad to see some balance to brought to the conversation by a member of my faith.

Also, I did notice that you referred to the church as "The Church of Latter-Day Saints" and wanted to correct you. You left out the most important part: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints."

Thanks, and keep up the good work. Oh, btw, do you ever sleep?

Posted by: mdustin | April 28, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

mdustin,

I wish someone would poll the voters in Utah. I have the sense that Bennett would poll much better among his actual constituents than he is polling among the party delegates who will decide his fate.

jeffwacker,

I think we could see a few more independents come to the Senate, under the circumstances that you suggest. And I think all of those guys would be aware of the power they would have to make or break filibusters. But I see three problems.

One is that there is already a movement to end or at least reform the rules on cloture at the beginning of the next session, so the emergence of such a group would probably only ensure that would happen, so that a handful of votes won't frustrate the work of the major parties.

Secondly, assuming the filibuster remains in place, the power of the group only exists if they continually vote as a bloc, and I don't picture these guys always going in the same direction.

Lastly, they have to caucus with one side or the other to keep their committee assignments, and that tends to somewhat dampen truly independent positions.

At some point there is bound to be a resurgence of more pragmatic ideas-based conservatism, but I suspect it will take a group of men and women who are younger than poiticians like McCain and Bennett to make it happen, and that the beginning of such a movement is still another election cycle or two away.

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 28, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

mdustin,

There was some polling in UT and he does do better, but the thing is; the right knows it can elect anyone, no mater how far right (in Ut).

Why settle for a almost completely conservative senator when you know you can get an absolutely off the charts conservative senator?

Don't thing they can, check out Rep. Chaffetz statements about concentration camps for illegal immigrants. It makes whats happening in Az. look timid. It won't (I hope) happen, but he wasn't punished at the polls for proposing it.

I have noticed that when the Democrats control Washington our local Republicans seem to go extra nutty. Bennett is doomed.

Posted by: chrynoble | April 28, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Bennett in Trouble

We need more consensus building and less compromise. If we focus on what we agree on, we can accomplish the most good.

Senator Bennett agreed to a health care bill, allowed his name to be used on it, that was not a consensus bill. It didn't have just the good ideas everyone had, it also had all the bad ideas as well.

It had an abortion provision requiring non-church owned insurance companies " a health insurance issuer shall make available supplemental coverage for abortion services that may be purchased in conjunction with enrollment in a HAPI plan or an actuarially equivalent healthy American plan."

It required mandatory purchase, something Senator Bennett voted the democrat senate bill which also had that to be unconstitutional.

We don't need someone trying to make bills less bad, we need someone trying to pass smaller bills that have fewer provisions that everyone can agree to.

Posted by: Utah1 | April 28, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I believe that Cherilyn Eagar is the only one running for the US Senate seat from Utah who has supported and been active in fighting for conservative values for the last 30 years at the local, state, national and international level. [That includes Bennett]

Posted by: Utah1 | April 28, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

"Why settle for a almost completely conservative senator when you know you can get an absolutely off the charts conservative senator?"

Seniority. Bennett is just about at the point in a Senate career (3 terms completed) where he would fully hit his stride in terms of power and influence.

But obviously this ideological "ethnic cleansing" operation taking place in the Republican Party is not going to be moved by pragmatic concerns like an incumbent Senator's actual effectiveness.

I agree, it is doomsday for Bennett.

Posted by: Patrick_M | April 28, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

The long-term prospects for the GOP are not. With this down economy, they should be well ahead of Democrats in the polls, but a Gallup poll puts them 45-45 and the ABC/WP poll gives Dems a 48-43 lead. These numbers will give Republicans a few more seats, but they will be a minority party going into Obama's re-election, and if the economy improves by then, Obama will be at 60% approval.

If Bob Bennett, John McCain, Charlie Crist and Lindsay Graham are no longer welcome in the GOP, what does that say to the rest of the country, who voted overwhelmingly for a black liberal President?

Posted by: AxelDC | April 28, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

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