Don’t talk to Grassley in confidence

DON’T TALK TO GRASSLEY IN CONFIDENCE…. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and the leading conservative on “bipartisan” health care negotiations, had an interesting chat with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt this week. Faiz Shakir flagged this exchange yesterday:

GRASSLEY: One of the most controversial things we are facing — and one that the House does and Senator Kennedy’s committee does — is bring a government health insurance program into existence. He still spoke highly about that. And that’s not going to get bipartisan support.

And it would have been good if he had said to the entire country what he said to me privately — that he would look to alternatives for that. And we have a very good alternative by going with cooperatives because we’ve known them for 150 years in America. And allowing them to sell health insurance for more competition.

HUNT: Do you think the President could support that?

GRASSLEY: All I can tell you is — but he didn’t say this that night and he should have said it — that he’s looking for reasonable alternatives. And I think we have a reasonable bipartisan alternative in co-ops.

There are a few angles to this. The first is that Obama’s commitment to a public option and a possibly private concession that he’d consider an alternative are not necessarily contradictory. It’s easy to imagine the president telling Grassley, “I want a public plan, but if you can find a different mechanism that can achieve the same results, I’ll gladly consider it.” Grassley wants Americans to think Obama is saying one thing in public and another in private. There’s little reason to think that’s true.

The second is that the Republicans’ co-op idea, for all the reasons Faiz explained, is a poor substitute for more meaningful reform of the system.

But the part of the Grassley-Hunt exchange that stood out for me is the fact that the president and Senate Democrats are negotiating with a conservative Republican senator who feels entirely comfortable telling national television audiences about private discussions. I have no idea what Obama did or didn’t say to Grassley during their negotiations, but I suspect the president assumed he could talk to the Iowa Republican in confidence. That’s apparently not the case.

Maybe it’s time to stop basing the future of health care reform on Chuck Grassley’s partisan perceptions?