POOR CHESS PLAYERS…. If it seemed as if the vast majority of Senate Democrats were acting with a stronger-than-expected commitment to getting health care done this year, it wasn’t an accident.
Faced with Republican resistance that many Democrats saw as driven more by politics than policy disagreements, Senate Democrats in recent days gained new determination to bridge differences among themselves and prevail over the opposition.
Lawmakers who attended a private meeting between Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats at the White House on Tuesday pointed to remarks there by Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, as providing some new inspiration.
Mr. Bayh said that the health care measure was the kind of public policy he had come to Washington to work on, according to officials who attended the session, and that he did not want to see the satisfied looks on the faces of Republican leaders if they succeeded in blocking the measure.
Now, I happen to like that sentiment quite a bit, but let’s pause to appreciate who made it: Evan Bayh? Senate Republicans have been so irresponsible, so petty, and so exasperating, they turned Evan Bayh into a Democratic partisan? The same Evan Bayh who said, as recently as July, he wouldn’t rule out supporting a Republican filibuster?
It’s a reminder that the GOP caucus doesn’t include especially good chess players. Jon Chait notes the larger context:
At the outset of this debate, moderate Democrats were desperate for a bipartisan bill. They were willing to do almost anything to get it, including negotiate fruitlessly for months on end. We can’t know for sure, but Democrats appeared willing to make enormous substantive concessions to win the assent of even a few Republicans. A few GOP defectors could have lured a chunk of Democrats to sign something far more limited than what President Obama is going to sign. And remember, it would have taken only one Democrat to agree to partial reform in order to kill comprehensive reform. I can easily imagine a scenario where Ben Nelson refused to vote for anything larger than, say, a $400 billion bill that Chuck Grassley and a couple other Republicans were offering.
But Republicans wouldn’t make that deal…. The Republicans eschewed a halfway compromise and put all their chips on an all or nothing campaign to defeat health care and Obama’s presidency. It was an audacious gamble. They lost. In the end, they’ll walk away with nothing.
They may, however, make significant gains in the midterm elections, especially if long-time proponents of health care reform decide that this health care reform fails to meet their expectations, and, instead of fighting for policy improvements, decide to just stay home.
But since repeal of the policy is all but impossible, Republicans will still be stuck with a ambitious national health policy they could have made far more to their liking if they hadn’t been such knee-jerk reactionaries.
As David Frum recently asked his fellow Republicans, “The furious rejectionist frenzy of the past 12 months is exacting a terrible price upon Republicans. We’re getting worse and less conservative results out of Washington than we could have negotiated, if we had negotiated…. I hear a lot of talk about the importance of “principle.” But what’s the principle that obliges us to be stupid?”