Rahm’s rationalization

RAHM’S RATIONALIZATION…. The remarks may or may not still be operative, but when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told the Wall Street Journal the administration was open to a “trigger” provision on health care reform, he drew an odd parallel.

“[Emanuel] noted that congressional Republicans crafted a similar trigger mechanism when they created a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare in 2003,” the WSJ noted. “In that case, private competition has been judged sufficient and the public option has never gone into effect.”

Ezra Klein raised a very good point in response.

In 2003, Republicans controlled the White House, the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate. As such, when they tried to pass their legislation adding a private prescription drug benefit to Medicare, they allowed a small concession to Democrats: a weak public plan that would be activated if certain conditions weren’t met by private industry.

What Emanuel is saying here, however, is that in 2009, when Democrats control the White House, the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate — and have larger margins than Republicans ever did in the latter two — that they are interested in settling on the same policy compromise: a weak public plan that would be activated if certain conditions aren’t met by private industry. That’s a bit weird. Weren’t elections supposed to have consequences?

It reminded me of a conversation I had the other day with a friend of mine about an alternate universe. Imagine, my friend said, there was a Republican president, working with large, obstructionist-proof Republican majorities in the House and Senate. The Republican president’s approval rating was about 60%, and he’d just won a popular electoral mandate on a key issue, which Republicans have prioritized literally for generations.

What are the chances, my friend asked, that Republicans would accept the importance of “bipartisanship” in shaping the policy? What are the odds that GOP leaders would make a series of concessions to Democrats, and tolerate Republican centrists who were toying with the idea of siding with the minority party?

A couple of weeks ago, in response to criticism of the administration from George W. Bush, Robert Gibbs told reporters, “We kept score last November, and we won.”

With that in mind, it’s tempting to remind Democratic policymakers, as they negotiate with the shrinking minority party and back down on key priorities, “You won.”