September 5, 2009

Raucous Baucus Caucus

Hatched by Dafydd

In a sure sign of a looming crackup in the health-care reform debacle, Sen Max Baucus (D-MT, 80%) says that he is sick of the deadlock among the putative "Bipartisan Six" senators, and that he is going to circulate a more or less final compromise position; if it fails to get four of the six votes -- as I suspect it will -- it will prove that "further bipartisan negotiations would be futile."

If that happens, I believe it will be the end of any significant health-insurance overhaul, as the Senate does not have sixty Democratic senators willing to vote for a Democrats-only ObamaCare bill; and all the Republicans will vote against cloture (including the Maine twins).

Finally, I do not believe, in the end, that the Democratic leadership will be able to pull off the "reconciliation" trick, where they enact a bill in the Senate that doesn't have, say, the government "option," but then add it in during reconciliation -- and claim that they only need 51 votes to pass the reconciled bill. The Byrd Rule would preclude that; and I believe Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV, 79%) himself would rail against it. A bunch of Blue Dogs would be outraged... particularly since they would be tarred by the bill even if they voted against it. The damage such a maneuver would do to the Democratic caucus itself would shred the party. Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 70%) won't fire that Rubicon.

I think that liberal Democrats and Baucus himself have concluded that there will be no bipartisan compromise: Republicans have no incentive to take the electoral heat off Democrats pushing a wildly unpopular bill that will bankrupt Medicare and put an onerous health-care mandate on all Americans without any significant reforms to lower the costs, such as tort reform, removing barriers on cross-state competition for insurance companies, expanded medical savings accounts (MSAs), health-insurance portability (attaching insurance to the person, not the job), and so forth.

On the other hand, liberal Democrats in safe seats have no incentive to take the heat off their more moderate colleagues to pass a radical government takeover of health care. Instead, both the GOP and the Progressive Caucus see more gain to themselves in blowing up the negotiations than finding a "compromise" that everybody hates: Republicans expect the collapse to hurt Democrats in 2010, while liberals believe that if they agree to a compromise, their radical constituents will abandon them in the election -- whereas their own personal reelection is guaranteed if they hold firm to "progressive" principles, even if that means ObamaCare dies an ugly death.

Baucus sounds desperate:

The chairman, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, signaled his intentions in a telephone conference call with five other committee members who have been struggling for months to forge a bipartisan bill and break a partisan stalemate in Congress, an official familiar with the call said.

The official said Mr. Baucus had told the group that he would circulate a detailed proposal as early as Saturday. In doing so, he would be taking a big step toward forcing a final decision by the group as to whether it sees any realistic prospect of a deal.

Many of the ideas expected to be included in the Baucus plan have been aired for weeks among the negotiators and by other lawmakers. But if Mr. Baucus follows through, it would be the first time he had assembled a complete package, an indication of the pressure he is under to produce an agreement.

It was ever thus: Republicans see American health insurance as mostly in good shape with a few problems that can be handled with minor tweaks; liberal Democrats see a "crisis," whether real or fabricated, that can be whipped into an opportunity to do what they have dreamt of for decades: nationalize American health care, à la the British National Health Service... and they are pushing the Democratic moderates to hold firm, even if it costs them their jobs, to principles they don't even fully support. The negotiators are thus speaking at cross purposes; there is no "meeting of the minds," hence no "contract" is likely.

The Baucus compromise in the Senate Banking Committee gives neither side any of its bottom-line essentials:

  • There is nothing to strengthen or expand the invisible hand of the free market in health insurance, so Republicans will reject it;
  • There is nothing to stick the invisible foot of government into the Capitalist system, so the "progressives" have nothing to gain and everything to lose by supporting it.
  • Thus, only a small handful of actual moderates would support the bowdlerized "compromise."

As I wrote last Tuesday:

Compromise is a great strategy when negotiating the price of a new car, but it makes lousy politics; usually nobody likes the result, and all the collaborators end up running for cover. Far better to compete instead of collaborate... to put our own vision of health reform out there, then let the people decide.

Note that this syllogism applies equally well to the GOP and the Progressive Caucus: Each side is better off rejecting an unworkable sausage of a compromise and instead pushing its own alternative plan, heading into next year's campaign.

La Casa Blanca agrees with this assessment -- gloomy to them, bright and sunny to me and anyone else who supports liberty, Americanism, Capitalism, and the market:

For all the interest on all sides of the debate about what occurred in Friday’s conference call, the White House and Congressional Democrats have already concluded that a bipartisan alternative is probably doomed after recent public attacks from Mr. Grassley and Mr. Enzi.

That leaves the administration with a new and highly charged political dynamic -- balancing the conflicting desires of liberals and moderates in the president’s own party -- as he tries to pass a bill with Democrats’ votes alone, perhaps, and at best one Senate Republican, Ms. Snowe.

But Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME, 12%) supports only a potential government option that would be triggered by absolute private-insurance company intransigence, which is unlikely in the extreme; much more probable is that under such a plan, insurance companies would make some appearance of cooperation, thus avoiding triggering the entrance of government health insurance.

All sides understand that a government option hinging on a trigger is either (a) the same as no government option at all, or (b) equivalent to a full-time public option from Day-0. There will be no "in between" state in which we're already not certain whether the trigger will or will not be squeezed. But the lefties in the Democratic Party won't accept (a), while Snowe and the other moderate Republicans will not accept the latter.

Further, the progressives demand an actual government "option" for health insurance from the git-go; anything less will not allow the destruction of private insurance... thus allowing a good crisis to go to waste. The Left has too much power within the Democratic Party now to be rolled into a compromise that even Snowe could live with.

Similarly, moderate Democrats are balking at the Left's demands:

The president must reach out to moderate-to-conservative Democrats like Senators Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who will continue to push for a measure that spends less and does not include a public insurance option as liberal Democrats demand. The same is true for the Blue Dog Democrats in the House.

But liberal Democrats, who dominate in the House and include Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have become emboldened by the prospect of passing a bill solely with Democratic support.

Bottom line:

  • Moderates may want a compromise, but there aren't enough of them to pass it;
  • Conservatives and liberals alike would much rather have a head to head competition than "compromise" their principles by agreeing to a compromise;
  • Thus never the twain shall meet.

I predict there will be no compromise; rather, one side will win, and the other will lose. And given the mounting skepticism and even downright fear among the electorate about the specifics of radical health-care "reform," there's no doubt in my mind that the winner will be the GOP, the minor loser will be the Progressive Caucus -- and the big, fat, hairy loser will be Barack Obama himself, whose presidency will be gutted in his very first year in office.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 5, 2009, at the time of 9:10 PM

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The following hissed in response by: snochasr

whose presidency will be gutted in his very first year in office.

And not a moment too soon, either. Too bad it couldn't have happened 8 or 9 months ago.

I would think the GOP, were they really smart (which is dreaming, I know), would want this debate drug out for a long time, to continue to damage the Dems and keep the angry memories alive until November of next year. The Dems are at a disadvantage in trying to resolve this quickly, even if they were willing to agree and "go it alone," because they cannot get 60 votes in the Senate without Kennedy. And even if they did agree, there would still be the conference committee, leading to another nasty round of public outrage.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 6, 2009 5:05 AM

The following hissed in response by: Davod

Never underestimate the ability of Republicans to snatch defeat from victory. There will be some who consider compromise a virtue, regardless of the final bill.

The above hissed in response by: Davod [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 6, 2009 9:15 PM

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