All dressed up and ready to compromise

ALL DRESSED UP AND READY TO COMPROMISE…. Karen Tumulty shares an important anecdote about negotiations over health care reform.

When Barack Obama informed congressional Republicans last month that he would support a controversial parliamentary move to protect health-care reform from a filibuster in the Senate, they were furious. That meant the bill could pass with a simple majority of 51 votes, eliminating the need for any GOP support for the bill. Where, they demanded, was the bipartisanship the President had promised? So, right there in the Cabinet Room, the President put a proposal on the table, according to two people who were present. Obama said he was willing to curb malpractice awards, a move long sought by the Republicans and certain to bring strong opposition from the trial lawyers who fund the Democratic Party.

What, he wanted to know, did the Republicans have to offer in return?

Nothing, it turned out. Republicans were unprepared to make any concessions, if they had any to make.

So far, we’ve seen quite a bit of this when the president and the shrinking congressional minority disagree. President Obama sought a stimulus package, for example, and hoped to win over Republicans with a healthy dose of tax cuts. What did Republicans respond with? Nothing, except a counter-proposal with nothing but huge tax cuts.

The president also wants health care reform. He doesn’t want to curb malpractice awards, but he’s willing to compromise and make concessions to win over Republicans. What is the GOP willing to compromise on? Not a thing. They want the folks who won the elections and are pushing a popular idea to move closer to them — in exchange for nothing.

As Matt Yglesias explained, “I think it makes a certain amount of sense for a battered minority party to say to hell with bipartisan compromise, now it’s your turn to govern by your ideas and pay the consequences when they fail. But that’s not really what’s happening here. Instead the minority whines that White House isn’t doing enough to compromise, but doesn’t actually want any kind of compromises.”

Obama drove this point home last week, during the White House press conference.

“[T]o my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine. I can’t sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn’t work, and the American people voted to change. But there are a whole host of areas where we can work together.

“And I’ve said this to people like Mitch McConnell. I said, ‘Look, on health care reform, you may not agree with me that I’ve — we should have a public plan. That may be philosophically just too much for you to swallow. On the other hand, there are some areas like reducing the cost of medical malpractice insurance where you do agree with me. If I’m taking some of your ideas and giving you credit for good ideas, the fact that you didn’t get 100 percent can’t be a reason every single time to oppose my position.’ And if that is how bipartisanship is defined, a situation in which, basically, wherever there are philosophical differences, I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in an historic election, you know, we’re probably not going to make progress.

“If, on the other hand, the definition is that we’re open to each other’s ideas, there are going to be some differences, the majority will probably be determinative when it comes to resolving just hard-core differences that we can’t resolve but there is a whole host of other areas where we can work together, then I think we can make progress.”

If only Republicans wanted to make progress, reaching out to them would make more sense and produce better results.