The parties are supposed to disagree

THE PARTIES ARE SUPPOSED TO DISAGREE…. On ABC News’ “This Week,” presidential advisor David Axelrod said the health care bill “will be bipartisan by definition.” By way of an explanation, he added, “The Senate health committee accepted 82 Republican amendments. Republican ideas will be included with this process, we hope it will come with Republican votes as well.”

Soon after, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of the leading Republican negotiators on health care, said the 82 Republican amendments that were approved don’t count. “Those were strictly technical,” Grassley said this morning. “And Republicans are not going to hoodwinked into calling that a bipartisan bill.”

The back and forth pointed to an obvious truth that the political establishment doesn’t seem to like: the two major parties don’t agree on health care reform.

Congressional Republicans are finding much to dislike in Democratic health care proposals, illustrating the immense difficulty Democrats face in fashioning an overhaul that can attract enough Republican support to be portrayed as bipartisan. […]

Asked how many Senate Republicans could sign on to developing Democratic plans, Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, author of a Republican alternative, said: “I think right now, none. Zero.”

Grassley added that even in the unlikely event Democrats are able to find a few Republicans to support their reform efforts, it wouldn’t count as a “bipartisan bill” unless a lot of Republicans sign on.

Several GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, have said they’re open to the possibility of a bipartisan effort, just so long as health care reform doesn’t cost a lot of money, doesn’t raise taxes, doesn’t adversely affect the insurance companies, doesn’t include a public option, and doesn’t give the government more influence in the system. As long as Dems can agree to these conditions, everyone can get along just fine.

Maybe now would be a good time to remind the relevant players that there are different political parties for a reason. Democrats and Republicans are — I hope you’re sitting down — supposed to disagree.

They have very different policy agendas, driven by different worldviews. That they’re struggling to agree on how to pass the most sweeping overhaul of the health care system isn’t surprising; that they’re trying to overcome this is.

A.L. noted this week:

For as long as I can remember, the Democratic party has fought to increase the government’s role in providing health care coverage for Americans while the Republican party has fought to reduce the government’s role. The Democrats are responsible for Medicare, Medicaid, and S-CHIP; the Republicans fought all of those initiatives. On a policy level, the Democrats believe that the best health and cost outcomes can be achieved by increasing access and encouraging widespread use of routine and preventative medical care. Republicans, on the other hand, have routinely identified the problem as over-consumption of care. Their proposals to fix the system inevitably involve significant deregulation with the goal of encouraging the use of high-deductible policies to try to discourage personal consumption of health care. Nearly every Democrat (including the blue dogs and “centrists”) believes this to be bad policy.

In other words, there is virtually no common ground between the parties. The parties don’t even see eye-to-eye regarding basic goals and policy assumptions.

There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s nice and pleasant when both sides can agree, and President Obama probably hoped the situation was so severe, Republicans would put aside many of their preconceived ideological objections to reform, and work in good faith towards obvious, common-sense solutions. That’s not going to happen, of course, but that’s not necessarily awful. The political system expects the parties to argue with one another. It’s a feature, not a bug.

It looks like the opposition party is going to criticize and object to the Democrats’ health care reform effort. That’s what opposition parties do — they oppose.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) asked the other day, “[D]o you want to be non-partisan and get nothing? Or do you want to be partisan and end up with a good health- care plan? That is the choice.”

The process will probably go much smoother once negotiators come to grips with this.