GOP Gambles on Health Politics, Loses on Policy

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Posted by The Green Miles

Last summer, some center-right Senate Democrats like Max Baucus seemed eager to settle for half a loaf on health insurance reform and make massive concessions to Republicans like Chuck Grassley. But as Jonathan Chait writes at The New Republic, Republicans refused to negotiate and instead put all their chips on blocking health insurance reform altogether:
The strategy had some logic to it: If all 40 Republicans voted no, then Democrats would need 60 votes to succeed, a monumentally difficult task. And if they did succeed, the bill would be seen as partisan and therefore too liberal, too big government. The spasm of anti-government activism over the summer helped lock the GOP into this strategy -- no Republican could afford to risk the wrath of Tea Partiers convinced that any reform signed by Obama equaled socialism and death panels.
"Monumentally difficult"? Yes, it cost concessions on women's health rights & any kind of public option. But from a policy perspective, it was still far less painful than trying to make the moonshot to Planet Grassley. Instead, Senate Democrats only had bridge the relatively small gap to Ben Nelson & Joe Lieberman. While they've held firm on their anti-Democratic demands on abortion & private insurance monopolies, Nelson & Lieberman fully support 90% of the bill -- its pricetag remains unchanged.

Democrats largely get the bill they wanted -- and well ahead of the 2010 elections, it will mark a major legislative victory in the bank. Now, it's up to the economy to continue its slow recovery -- fairly or not, Democrats' prospects in 2010 remain tied to unemployment numbers.

As for Republicans, Chait concludes:
The Republicans eschewed a halfway compromise and put all their chips on an all or nothing campaign to defeat health care and Obama's presidency. It was an audacious gamble. They lost. In the end, they'll walk away with nothing. The Republicans may gain some more seats in 2010 by their total obstruction, but the substantive policy defeat they've been dealt will last for decades.
My question for you is this: Do Republicans care about that policy defeat? If they really cared one iota about the policy outcome, wouldn't they have negotiated even a little bit for a bill that ?

Today's Republican Party follows what Paul Krugman called The Rove Doctrine -- there is no policy, only politics. Who cares if adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare, as President Bush supported, went against everything conservatives stand for? As Robert Novak wrote in 2006, "The drug plan was an audacious effort to co-opt the votes of seniors, reflecting Rove's grand design of building on the electoral majority by adding constituency groups."

So I'm in no way surprised that Republicans would pass up a chance to stand up for their alleged values and fight for a more conservative bill. They revealed their real real core principle -- do whatever you think will get more Republicans elected, policy be damned.