Limited options

LIMITED OPTIONS…. Invariably, when there’s talk of Senate Democrats trying to find some Republican support for health care reform, the only two names that come up are the moderates from Maine. Surely there are a couple of others worth reaching out to, right?

Wrong. Grassley and Enzi are obviously out. McCain and Graham aren’t interested. Voinovich, Lugar, and Gregg won’t engage. Burr seemed mildly interested, before reversing course. Specter was a real possibility, but he gave up on the GOP altogether.

But what about Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah? He’s worked with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on health care policy in the past, suggesting he has a genuine interest in reform. Maybe he’s willing to consider honest, constructive, good-faith talks?

Apparently not. At an event last week in Utah alongside Karl Rove, Bennett said, “The No. 1 assignment in 2009 is to kill Obamacare.”

It’s worth noting why Bennett has moved from being open to bipartisan reform efforts to reflexive, partisan hack. There’s no real mystery here — Bennett is up for re-election next year; he has no credible Democratic opponent; and he’s likely to face a primary challenge from the even-further-right wing of his party.

Suzy Khimm explained yesterday:

[I]t looks like the right-wing attack on Bob Bennett is working. […]

Bennett had been ramping up on his criticism of Obama over the summer, but his recent comments have made it clear that he’s shifted into all-out attack mode. While no one expected him to vote in favor of Obama’s bill, Bennett had been one of the more sensible and sane critics of reform. He’s now made it clear that his prerogative is simply to kill the bill, officially abandoning any vestiges of his moderate Republicanism for the hyperpartisan ranks of his party…. Bennett has apparently decided that he’s no longer willing to engage.

It’s a very similar dynamic to what we’ve seen from Iowa’s Chuck Grassley — up for re-election in 2010, no top-tier Democratic opponent, fear of a right-wing primary challenge. And like Grassley, Bennett has decided his smartest move would be to become less reasonable, less sensible, and less open to compromise.

It’s one of the reasons Senate Republicans have given up on moderation in general. GOP centrists end up a) leaving the party; b) losing in a “blue” state that tires of Republican antics; or c) shifting to the far-right to stave off intra-party challenges.

Bennett, like Grassley, wants to keep his job. The surest way to make that happen is to satisfy the demands of confused right-wing activists. Helping pass health care reform would help Bennett’s country. Helping kill health care reform would help Bennett’s career. He’s made his choice, making it that much more impossible for Democrats to find someone to talk to on the other side of the aisle.