Tipping point

TIPPING POINT…. By all appearances, Democrats have gone above and beyond in trying to secure at least some Republican support for health care reform. GOP leaders have gotten a lot of face time at the White House. Dems have signaled a willingness to make all kinds of concessions. When Republicans insisted the majority slow down, the process slowed to a crawl. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in late July, “Working with the Republicans, one of the things that they asked for was to have more time. I don’t think it’s unreasonable.”

This week, however, we seem to have reached the tipping point. A variety of GOP leaders explained that Dems could drop the public option altogether, and it wouldn’t make any difference. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who’s become increasingly belligerent about the very idea of reform, said he’s prepared to vote against his own compromise bill. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) announced that Republicans will reject reform no matter what’s in the bill.

By late yesterday, it seems Democratic leaders had seen enough.

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Top Democrats said Tuesday that their go-it-alone view was being shaped by what they saw as Republicans’ purposely strident tone against health care legislation during this month’s Congressional recess, as well as remarks by leading Republicans that current proposals were flawed beyond repair.

Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said the heated opposition was evidence that Republicans had made a political calculation to draw a line against any health care changes, the latest in a string of major administration proposals that Republicans have opposed.

“The Republican leadership,” Mr. Emanuel said, “has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama’s health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day.”

That is painfully, obviously true. Negotiating health care reform with politicians who oppose health care reform doesn’t make sense. Negotiating reform with politicians who’ve vowed to vote against reform under any circumstances is insane.

At this point, keep two angles in mind. First, should Dems follow through and go it alone, watch to see who gets blamed. I think the majority has a very compelling case: “We tried in good faith, to reach out and compromise, but the ‘party of no’ slapped away our outstretched hand.” They’ll be able to point to this week — Grassely, Kyl, and the GOP reaction to scrapping the public option — as the point at which bipartisan reform died.

Second, going for an all-Democratic bill won’t necessarily make reform easy. Easier, sure, but not easy. In the House, there are a whole lot of Blue Dogs who, as you may recall, were ready to kill reform in July. In the Senate, there’s a core group of about seven center-right Dems who support reform in theory, but have balked at many of the key provisions, including a public option.

That said, giving up on Republican outreach gives Democrats a historic opportunity to finally get the job done.