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The Democrats killed the bipartisan Wyden-Bennett bill

In today’s Post, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) cites the defeat of his partner in the Wyden-Bennett health-care bill, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), in an appeal for greater bipartisanship in Washington. Wyden notes that their bill “had some pretty good ideas for health reform -- despite its rejection by significant Democratic and Republican leaders.” This contradicts the conclusion reached by William Galston and Thomas Mann in Sunday’s Post, who argue that the two parties are not equally to blame for the polarization in Washington and lay the blame for the defeat of Wyden-Bennett at the feet of the GOP: “The Post failed to note that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug on the Wyden-Bennett initiative well before reform was taken up last year.”

With all respect, McConnell is powerful, but he is the Senate minority leader. He has no power to “pull the plug” on a bill sponsored by a Democratic senator. If the Democratic leadership had wanted to move forward on Wyden-Bennett, they could have done so with or without McConnell’s approval.

Galston and Mann further write: “During the lengthy health debate, not one Senate Republican spoke in favor of the Wyden-Bennett bill.” Well, why would they? The Democratic majority never brought Wyden-Bennett to the floor for debate. Generally senators tend to discuss the merits of the bill that the Senate is actually considering.

If the Democrats were serious about bipartisanship, they would have made Wyden-Bennett the basis of the health reform effort.

It had a prominent Republican sponsor attached to it and a small number of Republican co-sponsors. Most Republicans would have voted against it, but at least the Democrats would have gained some GOP support and the veneer of bipartisanship. Instead, the Democrats chose to go with legislation that had zero Republican support and ram it through using obscure parliamentary maneuvers. It was this decision by the Democratic leadership -- not any action on the part of the GOP minority -- that polarized the health-care debate.

Galston and Mann decry the fact that Bennett’s “commendable work with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden to develop a bipartisan health-care bill… was used against him by conservative Utah activists to deny him renomination.” Why would conservatives be happy with Wyden-Bennett? It contained an individual mandate and abortion coverage -- none of which conservatives in Utah, or elsewhere, consider “commendable.”

The fact is that when the Democrats push health-care legislation so radical that even Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) vote no, it should be clear that responsibility for the polarization in Washington hardly rests with the GOP.

By Marc Thiessen  | May 21, 2010; 2:26 PM ET
Categories:  Thiessen  | Tags:  Marc Thiessen  
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Sure, responsibility for the polarization rests with both parties.

Posted by: fieglca | May 21, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

What insight. Republicans aren't soley to blame for the polarization in Washington. My god it doesn't get much deeper then that.

Boy, don't you wish you too could find a job where no work or thinking is required and get paid a ton. What a sweet deal some of these columnists have. Scribble that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west and your side will think you just discovered the laws of motion.

Posted by: kchses1 | May 21, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

"If we're able to stop Obama on [healthcare], it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." Sen. Jim DeMint (R), July, 2009.

“It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out.” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) quoted in March 16, 2010 NYT.

Posted by: rueviolet | May 22, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

If the Dems. would stop spinning every issue , and put the interests of the people ahead of the Party's interests, we would all be better off.
But they refuse to acknowledge, despite controlling ALL of Govt, that all matters, good and bad, win or lose, THEY OWN THEM.
Blaming the Minority party all the time just makes them look ineffective and hypocritical.
Part of being a good leader is accepting responsibility. ALL the Dems. are willing to accept is praise, when responsibility rears its' head, the spin game kicks into high gear. People are sick of it. And it starts at the top, from the President down.

Posted by: rannan3 | May 22, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

the democrats are gutless, moralizing and reckless. their cheap and easy morals infantilize the american people while they paint traditional notions of law and order as beyond the pale and nazi-like. americans are made of stronger stuff than that and november will be time for a course correction.

Posted by: dummypants | May 23, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Blaming the GOP for partisanship in this Dem-dominated Congress is just plain silly. That said, the GOP would never have supported Wyden-Bennett. For one thing, it included mandates, which despite all the spin, Obamacare does not have. Without mandates, universal healthcare remains a dream. Obamacare may have accomplished healthcare for more (as well as more expensive care for all), but it falls far short of universal.

Posted by: Steve851 | May 24, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

It is hard to envision GOP support for the Wyden Bennett bill - Bob Bennett was rejected in Utah in part due to his support for this bill. In a similar fashion, Grassley left negotiations because of primary pressure from the hard right about cooperating with Baucus.

Obama repeatedly asked McConnell et al. at the health care summit to propose an alternative health care proposal and they easily could have offered Wyden Bennett as a counter. In terms of sheer political calculations, there were no incentives for the GOP to hand Obama a political victory with health care reform or for GOP reps to provoke the ire of tea party types.

That said, I think the Wyden Bennett bill would have been a better bill but it probably would have represented a more radical alteration of the health care system than the bill that finally passed.

Posted by: bigbaubdi | May 24, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I hear spinmeaister gums flapping. Yes, those poor pitiful Republicans don't have the majority so they're powerless. Except that they have invoked a record number of filibusters and secret holds so as stop most business of Congress altogether. Last time I checked there were over 200 items of business stacked up in the Senate--most for no particular reason except that the Republicans could block progress. Not that they disagreed with the bill or appointment all that much, it's just become the modus operendi of the the Republicans. Polarization on both sides equally? Hardly. Democrats are not the ones going on purity purges like the Republicans did in Florida, Utah, and Kentucky. Some Democrats push back a little--the fault is 90% Republican. Democrats have been way too accommodating to the screaming toddlers in the GOP.

Posted by: wd1214 | May 24, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

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