Raising the bar

RAISING THE BAR…. Passing health care reform in the Senate with, say, 52 votes would be viewed as something of a failure. Passing reform with 58 votes, the conventional wisdom tells us, would make the vote “partisan.” Passing reform with 61 or 62 votes, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa said recently, wouldn’t be quite good enough, because it would mean only a couple of Republicans sided with the majority.

As of today, Grassley has a new number in mind.

The final healthcare reform bill to make its way out of the Senate should have as many as 80 members voting for passage, one of the lead Republican negotiators of the health package said Wednesday.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said it’s his preference to see the vast majority of his colleagues on board with a final healthcare bill.

“It ought to be from 80 people in the center of the Senate, I would think,” Grassley said during a news conference with Iowa reporters.

That’s not a typo. Grassley told reporters reform ought to have 80 votes, which would come from his idea of what constitutes the “center.”

That’d be quite a feat, given that Republicans want to use health care to “break” the president, make this Obama’s “Waterloo,” and by one GOP senator’s own admission, at least half of Republican opposition to reform is based on nothing but partisan politics.

Also note the extent to which Grassley is hung up on process. What matters is the size of the majority, he says, not what’s in the bill.

I’m reminded of a recent item from Matt Yglesias, on the “recursive loops” of Grassley’s “bipartisanship.”

By definition any bill that 60 Senators vote for has broad legislative support, which one assumes is the virtue of a bipartisan bill. And yet despite that fact, a new consensus is emerging that for a bill to be “really” bipartisan, it’s not good enough to acquire the vote of the 41st-most-conservative Senator (Ben Nelson) or even the 40th- and 39th-most-conservative Senators (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe). You also need an additional even more conservative Senator. And now we have Chuck Grassley signaling that his commitment to this weird principle is so strong that he would vote against a bill of which he otherwise approves unless a Senator who even more conservative than Grassley agrees to vote for it.

But what’s the point of this? Who does this help? The way bipartisan bills happen is that you forge a compromise with the moderate members of the other party. As it happens, there are only two moderate Republicans in the Senate. But that should be understood as the GOP’s problem, not the Democrats’ problem. If the GOP ran more moderate nominees, there might be more Republican Senators and then, as a matter of course, bipartisan legislation would require a broader coalition.

That was when Grassley was saying a 62-vote majority isn’t good enough. Now he’s throwing around 80.