Time to End False Bipartisanship

God I hope David Broder is wrong. "The President has told visitors,"
the Washington Post columnist wrote last week, "that he would rather
have 70 votes in the Senate for a bill that gives him 85 percent of
what he wants rather than a 100 percent satisfactory bill that passes
52-48." The good news is that Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is now
talking about how bipartisanship may need to be redefined downward if
the Democrats are going to pass meaningful healthcare reform. In a
meeting with journalists last week, Emanuel proposed that health-care
legislation could be bipartisan without Republican votes. "There will
be ideas from both parties, and individuals from both parties, in the
final product," he said. "Whether the Republicans decide to vote for
things they promoted will be up to them." ( David Axelrod seconded the
emotion in his appearance on ABC's "This Week.")

The trick now is to ensure that "centrist" Democrats (who, as Paul
Krugman notes, "are in fact way out in right field") pay more attention
to the broad majority favoring a strong public option than to the wads
of dough lavished on them by big Pharma and insurance lobbyists. As Joe
Conason put it in his invaluable New York Observer column, "If Congress
fails to enact healthcare reform this year---or it enacts a sham reform
designed to bail out corporate medicine while excluding the 'public
option'---then the public will rightly blame Democrats, who have no
excuse for failure except their own cowardice and corruption." Blame
could well be registered in ugly midterm election results in 2010.

It's time to part ways with obstructionist Republicans and pass a
strong healthcare bill with a majority vote, which is possible if
efforts cease to get a handful of Republicans to cross over. Redefining
bipartisanship at a time when the GOP has become a male, pale and stale
party committed to deficit demagoguery and fearmongering is the common
sense and, I'd even argue, pragmatic course. Instead of wasting time on
recalcitrant GOP holdouts, do what Drew Westen, author of the terrific
book "The Political Brain," advises to pass meaningful healthcare
change: "Focus on principles, tell compelling stories, move people
emotionally and send clear messages."

Sure, there are legitimate issues raised by people I admire about
the value of a public plan. Even President Obama once said, "If I were
designing a system from scratch, then I'd probably set up
single-payer." Like 59% of the Americans surveyed in January 2009 by
CBS News and the New York Times, I would prefer, as would my colleagues
at The Nation, to see Congress respond to this country's healthcare
crisis by scrapping a failed-for-profit system and replacing it with a
comprehensive national health insurance program.

But for now, the calculus of political viability has taken single-payer
off the table. That doesn't mean we cease fighting to get it back on
--but it probably means we need to balance our short and longterm
goals. Let's assume some compromise in our political system is
inevitable. The hard question is whether the compromise opens the door
to greater progress or forecloses opportunity. A weak public plan will
make it harder to get healthcare expenses under control while extending
care to all. A weak plan may discredit healthcare reform for a
generation. Real reform will cement strong attachment to the party
which has shown it can pass legislation truly improving the condition
of people's lives. (That's a key reason why former Dan Quayle adviser
and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol fought tooth and nail to
derail Clinton's healthcare reforms.) And for all the wrongheaded
deficit anxiety circulating, do Democrats really think that if they
pass major health care reform, and increase access--that voters will
punish them for growing the deficit? (And the cost debate is forcing to
the fore much-needed consideration of changes to our dysfunctional and
unjust tax structure that will enable us to pay for these healthcare

Congress is, of course, usually pretty skittish about reform, but with
a President with high approval ratings and an historically unpopular
GOP--if this isn't a time to pass sweeping reform with a strong public
plan, then when is?

© 2023 The Nation