As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bipartisanship For The Sake Of Looking Bipartisan

Democrats are acting like bipartisanship matters in the health care debate, and then the Republicans have a day where they reveal a "plan" with no details, no sense of who would be covered by it and no cost estimates. It's literally a useless four-page outline.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who heads a GOP health task force, said that when the details are drafted in the coming weeks, they would present a plan that “costs far less than the Democrats’ [plan] and provides better results for the American people.”

But Republicans who stayed at the press conference to answer questions — the leaders made statements but didn’t stay — could not answer whether their plan would include a tax increase to pay for such costly items as refundable tax credits for low- and middle-income workers to help pay for insurance.

These are the same people advocating the complete scrappage of the employer tax deduction, who want to criticize Democrats for raising taxes to pay for health care. These are the same people who introduced a bill to deny comparative effectiveness research in Medicare and Medicaid, in the name of fiscal conservatism:

1. Politicians who rail against wasteful government spending are taking action to prevent the government from reining in … wasteful spending.

2. Politicians who warn that the burden of entitlements is killing the federal budget are stepping in to block … the single most painless route to reducing the growth of entitlements.

3. They’re doing it in the name of avoiding “rationing of health care” … but they’re specifically addressing taxpayer-funded care. If you want to go out and buy a medically useless treatment, Medicare won’t stop you.

4. These same politicians are, of course, opposed to efforts to expand coverage. In other words, it’s evil for government to “ration care” by only paying for things that work; it is, however, perfectly OK, indeed virtuous, to ration care by refusing to pay for any care at all.

By the way, the "rationing" talking point is rank nonsense, but you probably knew that, based on who was promoting it.

Hell, these people have even tried to assert that health care reform shouldn't be passed because it promotes walking.

So given all of this, like E.J. Dionne I can't imagine why you would want to engage these people in any meaningful way, when they have time and again proven themselves not to be partners but unilateral adversaries.

Where did we get the idea that the only good health-care bill is a bipartisan bill? Is bipartisanship more important than whether a proposal is practical and effective? And if bipartisanship is a legitimate goal, isn't each party equally responsible for achieving it?

Most Democrats believe that fixing the system will require increased government intervention to guarantee universal coverage and to contain costs. Most Republicans oppose an expansion of government's role and believe an even more market-oriented system would pave the way to health-care nirvana.

Trying to achieve full bipartisanship by squaring those two views is a recipe for incoherence [...]

It's one thing to compromise to pick up votes, which, one hopes, is what Baucus is doing. It's another to compromise in exchange for nothing at all. The first is bipartisanship with a purpose. The second is the bipartisanship of fools.

And so we get idiotic half-measures like Kent Conrad's "throw a dart at a board" health co-ops idea, which simply does not make any reasonable sense as a substitute for the public plan unless the goal is to maintain the status quo for the sake of not angering Republicans who won't vote for the bill anyway. Health co-ops are fine at the margins, but simply could not possibly be scaled up to provide what a public plan could, which is the impetus for insurers to compete on price and quality. This is just a replay of the Bush years:

But is Conrad right about the politics? A reform proposal that doesn’t have a public plan is bound to cost more (or do less), since a public plan can save money--and save money in ways that the Congressional Budget Office will score. Get rid of the plan, and reform’s overall price tag goes up, making it harder to pass. And if reform without a public plan were to pass, it would simply not work as well, or perhaps at all. It would be more likely to run into problems because budget expenditures turn out to be higher, or implementation problems when private insurance doesn’t live up to its promises. That could sink reform before it even gets underway. In other words, maybe there’s a political risk to including a public plan. But there’s also a big political--and policy--risk to excluding it.

Strategically, Conrad’s approach is more like capitulation than compromise. Reconciliation or no reconciliation, the right political path for achieving reform doesn’t run through a minefield of endless preemptive concessions. When President Bush successfully enacted tax cuts in 2001 (through the reconciliation process, it should be noted), the question was simple: tax cuts, yea or nay? Many Democrats eventually signed on, not because they liked what Bush was peddling, but because they didn’t want to be against tax cuts. And tax cuts mostly for the rich weren’t all that popular. By contrast, there’s little question about the popularity of bold action on health care.

Memo to Congressional Dems: You. Cannot. Reason. With. Radical. Republicans. Who. Want. You. To. Fail. So stop trying, already, or else we'll have to conclude that you want no part of progress either.

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