Grassley’s not even trying

GRASSLEY’S NOT EVEN TRYING…. On MSNBC’s “Morning Meeting” earlier, Dylan Ratigan asked Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) about “death panels” as part of reform. “I see that as nothing more than a distortion coming from far-left with bringing up these end-of-life concerns,” Grassley said, “which are not the issue that we ought to be talking about.”

I have no idea what that means. The “far-left” is responsible for a bogus claim Grassley was touting as recently as last week?

Ezra Klein was on the same program, and noticed Grassley’s striking approach to reform.

First, Grassley did not speak like Lindsey Graham or Olympia Snowe. He did not come onto the program determined to present a reasonable face and comfort liberals, conservatives and independents alike. Instead, he railed against “government-run health care” and the “Pelosi health-care bill.” He talked about bureaucrats and exploding deficits. He sounded like a House conservative giving a stump speech. Grassley presumably leaves his stemwinders behind when he’s with the Gang of Six. But this was not a comforting sign. This was not a unifying performance.

Second, Chuck Todd asked Grassley whether he’d vote for the bill if it was a good piece of policy that he’d crafted but that couldn’t attract more than a handful of Republican votes. “Certainly not,” replied Grassley. Todd tried again, clarifying that this was legislation Grassley liked, and thought would move the ball forward, but was getting bogged down due to partisanship. Grassley held firm. If a good bill cannot attract Republican support, then it is not a good bill, he argued.

Grassley, in other words, is working backward from the votes. If the Gang of Six reaches a compromise that the Senate Republicans don’t support, Grassley will abandon that compromise, regardless of the fact that he’s the guy who built it.

If President Obama pursues reform with Democratic votes, he’s being “partisan.” Grassley, meanwhile, will vote against his own compromise bill unless it has lots of Republican votes, but that’s not “partisan” at all.

In order for negotiations to make sense, parties have to be willing to show some good faith, and a willingness to work towards a constructive goal. With this in mind, seeking a reasonable compromise with Chuck Grassley isn’t just wrong, it’s crazy.

Grassley has never demonstrated any sincere interest in genuine reform, but it seems over the last couple of weeks, the conservative Iowan has simply given up even trying to appear reasonable. He’s talking up “death panel” nonsense. He’s touting Glenn Beck’s book. He’s pulling common-sense measures with bipartisan support from the negotiating table. He’s taking cheap and unnecessary shots at the president. He’s making cheap and unnecessary arguments about “rationing” by exploiting Ted Kennedy’s cancer.

The list is much longer, but these are just some of the developments from the last two weeks.

Perhaps, in private, Grassley is a different pol. Maybe, in one-on-one chats with the president or Max Baucus, he comes across as sincere and committed to reform. But out here in the public sphere, Grassley is acting like a man who wants to kill health care reform. Basing the entire initiative on satisfying his partisan, ever-changing demands is a recipe for abject failure.

Indeed, as I argued over the weekend, I can only assume that Grassley doesn’t want to be part of reform negotiations anymore, and is working on getting himself kicked out of the talks. If he keeps moving further to the right, and Dems eventually decide to cut their losses with this guy, Grassley gets to have it both ways — he’ll tell moderates, “I invested months of time and energy in bipartisan reform negotiations,” and he’ll tell the right, “I stuck up for conservative principles and Democrats refused to listen.”