Process can’t trump policy

PROCESS CAN’T TRUMP POLICY…. When the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee took up health care reform this morning, it drew the opposition of all 10 Republicans — Enzi (WY), Gregg (NH), Alexander (TN), Burr (NC), Isakson (GA), McCain (AZ), Hatch (UT), Murkowski (AK), Coburn (OK), and Roberts (KS) — on the panel. That wasn’t surprising, and it wasn’t even bothersome — opposition parties are expected to oppose the majority’s policy agenda.

But it was nevertheless a reminder that the parties are approaching this issue in very different ways, and making reform conditional on support from Republicans is not a recipe for success (or even good policymaking).

I’m glad to see leading White House officials seem to have their priorities straight.

President Barack Obama may rely only on Democrats to push health-care legislation through the U.S. Congress if Republican opposition doesn’t yield soon, two of the president’s top advisers said.

“Ultimately, this is not about a process, it’s about results,” David Axelrod, Obama’s senior political strategist, said during an interview in his White House office. “If we’re going to get this thing done, obviously time is a-wasting.”

Both Axelrod and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said taking a partisan route to enacting major health-care legislation isn’t the president’s preferred choice. Yet in separate interviews, each man left that option open.

“We’d like to do it with the votes of members of both parties,” Axelrod said. “But the worst result would be to not get health-care reform done.”

Emanuel told Bloomberg that “bipartisanship” doesn’t necessarily have to mean votes from both parties; it can also mean ideas from both parties. “That’s a test of bipartisanship — whether you took ideas from both parties,” Emanuel said. “At the end of the day, the test isn’t whether they voted for it,” he said, referring to Republicans. “The test is whether the final product represented some of their ideas. And I think it will.” Indeed, Emanuel said GOP amendments were already incorporated into the HELP committee legislation.

Emanuel’s attempts at spinning the word “bipartisan” may or may not be compelling, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Having the parties recognize the crisis together, talk about solutions together, and then vote together would be a delightful, Broder-like dream. But in reality, there’s nothing wrong with a large Senate majority putting together a reform package, offering the minority a chance to contribute, and then voting on it, whether the minority is persuaded or not.

Politics is not a process through which sincere advocates with different visions have to approve of the end result. Democrats have a once-in-a-generation opportunity — prioritizing Republican satisfaction over legislative quality doesn’t make any sense.