Irreconcilable differences

IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES…. In August, MSNBC’s John Harwood mentioned something to Paul Krugman that stood out for me: “I gotta tell you what a White House official told me today: ‘Our problem right now is, if we tell some of the Republican opponents in the Senate, ‘You can have everything you want in the bill,’ they still won’t vote for it.'”

Yesterday, the Republicans’ Senate leader conceded that this is largely true: no matter the circumstances or concessions, Republicans will oppose health care reform.

The Senate Republican leader made clear on Wednesday that his party, despite all its griping over the public health insurance option, abortion-funding or health care for illegal immigrants, is simply and flatly opposed to the “core” of the Democratic health care reform proposal.

Satisfying every Republican demand short of scrapping the entire project, said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), would still not capture GOP support.

Talking to reporters on the Hill, McConnell said Democrats could remove the public option, remove funding that could be used on abortion, remove funding that could benefit “illegals,” and it wouldn’t make any difference — Republicans recognize “the core of the bill” and they’re against it.

“[H]owever these other issues are resolved, the core of the bill is a trillion dollar government attempt to take over one-sixth of the economy, which slashes Medicare by half a trillion dollars, and raises taxes on most Americans,” McConnell said.

As a substantive matter, McConnell’s remarks yesterday weren’t just wrong, they were ridiculous. But let’s put that aside for now. The key is the larger point: for all the whining about specific provisions, congressional Republicans don’t like the idea of the reform bill. They’re opposed to the general approach to resolving the health care crisis. Democrats could give the GOP all of the talked-about concessions, and it still wouldn’t enough. Not even close.

And here’s the kicker: there’s nothing wrong with that. Republicans are the opposition party. They’re supposed to oppose what the majority wants. Of course they’re against health care reform. The steps necessary to resolve the problem — government intervention in the marketplace, regulation of private insurers, subsidies for those who can’t afford coverage — are entirely antithetical to the Republican Party’s approach to public policy.

That’s not the problem. The problem is the expectation that Democrats are supposed to get Republicans to agree to a bill they find offensive. The problem is the sense that reform advocates have failed unless 65 senators (or 70, or 80) endorse reform to make it “legitimate.” The problem is the demand that the majority “compromise” with a minority that rejects the very idea of the proposed solution.

McConnell’s refreshing candor yesterday should, in theory, add the nails to the coffin of “bipartisan health care reform.” He couldn’t have been any clearer — Democrats and Republicans want different things, and want to go in different directions. Insisting that they find “common ground” is folly.