High wire Democrats
I’ve been wondering for a while about a contradiction at the heart of the Democrats on healthcare reform. If they really thought it was so important, necessary, and right, why didn’t they get it done earlier? In particular, why didn’t they get it done before Scott Brown’s election?
A correspondent at The Corner has been wondering the same thing, which got me thinking some more about it. There are really only two possibilities:
1. Some set of Democrats really didn’t want it to pass, but at the same time they didn’t want to be seen as stopping it from passing.
2. The Democrats are utterly incompetent politicians.
As the person at The Corner points out, if you’re a pro, you better not assume your party has an election for an open seat in the bag. For all you know your candidate could drop dead a week before the election.
Plus, the Democrats started the entire process with two senators with one foot in the grave each: Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd. It simply doesn’t make sense to dawdle under those conditions.
Of course, Obama didn’t want to. He was setting his deadlines, because he clearly understood this. It’s beyond my capacity to believe that Democratic leaders didn’t also understand the reasons for the urgency, and transmit them downstream to all the Democrats in Congress.
Yet, here we are, with healthcare reform on life support, and the Democrats are in worse position to pass it than they’ve been since Obama took office.
So what happened? Option 2 above is just for completeness. The Democrats can’t possibly be that unprofessional as politicians.
I don’t think Reid and Pelosi are the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they got to their positions for a reason.
The only possibility, really, is option 1. Some set of astute Democrats figured out along about April or May of last year that healthcare reform as envisioned by Obama, Reid, and Pelosi was an electoral disaster for them personally, and perhaps for their party in general. I’d like to think that at least some of them had qualms about the effectiveness of the monstrosity that evolved too, even if they favored healthcare reform in general, but that was probably a side issue. Whether it’s establishment Democrats or establishment Republicans, a threat to their power is about all that would really force them to go against their party’s official position.
However, preserving power and position is not just about staying in office. At the federal level, you also have to keep your position within the party heirarchy, and not damage your prospects for moving up over time.
This was especially tricky in the Senate. A House member might bargain with Pelosi to vote against a healthcare bill, because she had votes to spare. Senators had no such option. It became apparent last summer that the likelihood of getting some Republicans to provide cushion and the cover of faux “bipartisanship” was not good. So every Democratic senator was a potential blocking vote.
In these circumstances, an uncompromising public stance against healthcare would have marked a Democratic senator for being scalped by his own base, and even if he survived, he would have been likely relieved of power within the party. Yet, being seen as a supporter of this particular monstrosity carries big risk for electoral defeat, especially in certain red or purple states.
So I believe that Landrieu, Nelson, and others from those states walked the high wire doing a delicate balancing act for the last year. They threw just enough sand in the gears to slow things down, all in the name of “improving the bill” and such. Heck, they might have even believed their own bullsh!t. But they were no more interested in seeing the thing passed than we were. At various points, when pressed to the wall and being given all the ridiculous stuff they asked for, at least in some form, they finally voted for a bill, hoping that it couldn’t be reconciled with the House, or something, because they really didn’t want it to pass.
If this supposition is correct, it explains why healthcare is dead in the sense of a chicken with its head cut off. It’s still flopping around, but the outcome is pre-ordained. There are just too many Democrats who really don’t want it to pass, but can’t come right out and say so.
It also explains the bribes to Nelson and Landrieu. They didn’t really want the bribes. They probably asked for them to give them a face-saving way to continue to oppose the bill and draw out the process. They knew that it would be politically unpopular for the Democrats to put such obvious bribes in the bill, so they hoped it wouldn’t happen. Then Reid, realizing the situation was getting desperate, gave them the bribes anyway, estimating that the risk of the bribes was less than the risk of not getting the bill passed.
I don’t know how close this armchair analysis is to being correct, but I can’t think of any other reason for the comedy that has played out over the last year. The Democrats can’t be that incompetent as politicians.