Poor poker players

POOR POKER PLAYERS…. We’re well past the point at which Republicans can make substantive arguments about health care policy and hope to influence the outcome. Whether a Democratic lawmaker votes for or against the final package is not dependent on the GOP raising some heretofore overlooked policy observation.

So, what’s left in the Republican playbook? Scaring the bejesus out of wavering Dems. Jon Chait had a good item on this.

Republicans are warning Democrats that passing health care reform will make them less popular. They are alerting the House that Senators will betray any deal they make. And they are insisting that reconciliation will be a bloody, protracted fight, even signing a letter promising to invoke the “Byrd Rule” to strike out any non-budgetary measures from a reconciliation bill.

Clearly, this is mostly a bluff. After all, Senate Democrats would be crazy to make specific promises to the House and then renege on them — they would never pass another bill again. Democrats aren’t planning to put non-budgetary items into a reconciliation bill, so Republican can threaten all they want to invoke the Byrd Rule, but they’ll lose. Anyway, threatening to fight reconciliation is a threat to fight popular changes — delaying the excise tax, canceling special deals for Florida and Nebraska — after a comprehensive health care reform has already become a fait accompli. The GOP would be putting itself on the wrong side of public opinion to stop a bill that’s already passed.

I just wonder if Democrats are actually foolhardy enough to heed these warnings.

That’s certainly the right question. Republicans are just being shameless at this point, making obvious, ham-fisted threats, trying to drive a wedge between the House and Senate caucuses, and hoping to convince some Democrats that the GOP is a reliable source of campaign advice — as if Republicans were seriously looking out for Dems’ best interests.

In other words, the GOP hopes Democrats are so weak, and have such a hair-trigger panic reflex, that Dems will do what Republicans want, simply because Republicans want it.

Chait asks whether Democrats could really be that “pathetic.” My sense is, no, they can’t. I talked to some Hill staffers yesterday who characterized the GOP tactics as a transparent joke. “How dumb do they think we are?” one aide told me.

I try not to underestimate some Dems’ capacity for self-destruction, but at this point, the fear tactics are just too over the top to be effective.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.