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Hullabaloo


Saturday, June 27, 2009

 
Fixin' It

by digby

Ezra Klein says that a lot of people think we need to relax and have faith that health care will be fixed in conference:

[H]ere's a question that few have asked, and that virtually no one knows the answer to: How important is conference committee to the way the White House is looking at health care? I've heard it's pretty important. Heard the same thing about Harry Reid, actually. If that's true, then this is what the Democratic leadership is thinking: The overriding imperative right now is to keep health reform alive. That's all that matters. Get it out of the Finance Committee. Get it off the Senate floor. If it's cut down to half a loaf, fine. You don't fix it now. You fix it in conference. Or you let Henry Waxman do it for you.

That, incidentally, is not an unprecedented strategy. It's what the Bush administration did with Medicare Part D. The expansion the Senate wrote was genuinely bipartisan: Ted Kennedy and Tom Daschle both voted for the legislation. But the version that came out of conference committee was significantly more conservative. Kennedy and Daschle abandoned the bill. Democrats began organizing against legislation they had previously supported. It passed anyway.

It passed because it's hard to filibuster bills emerging from conference. You can't change them, for one thing. No amendments are allowed. Nor is there time for debate. You vote for the bill, you vote against the bill, or you filibuster the bill. Those are your options. Democrats are likely to walk out of conference committee with 60 senators in their party. Ben Nelson will not be able to ask to change this bit he doesn't like, and Evan Bayh will not be allowed to offer an amendment weakening that piece. They stand with the White House or against it. And it is, in the estimation of most observers I've talked to, hard to imagine them literally filibustering the final vote on health reform. The White House would torture them until they lost reelection. And if no Democrats are willing to filibuster, then the White House could lose as many as 10 of them and still pass the bill.

Sounds like an awesome plan. Except for one thing. Is there any reason on earth to believe that the Democrats in the conference committee will actually come out with a better plan than the one that went in?

I'd like to believe it's possible that everybody's just playing 53 dimensional chess in all this, but I am skeptical. I suspect that what you see is what you get. Democrats are as hostile to or afraid of a major change in the status quo as the Republicans are. They want to take credit for "fixing" problems and doing "what works" but I haven't seen any evidence as yet that they are very willing to take risks to make that happen. Maybe they are all still in thrall to the free market magical thinking that guided most economic decisions of the past quarter century or maybe they just don't trust their own instincts, but I'm not sanguine in the least that the Democratic leadership will go in a back room and "knock heads" to get real reform. If it isn't done in the open, after a rousing public debate where public opinion is strongly behind those who are taking the leap, I think it's highly doubtful they'll come up with anything better behind closed doors.

The Republicans had absolute faith that what they were doing was right and pushed their agenda through, regardless of what anyone said. And their goals and policies have failed. The Democrats have learned the wrong lesson from that. They have no faith that what they are doing is right and so are afraid to push anything through that doesn't have total bipartisan consensus. And yet, their goals and policies, if bold enough, would likely succeed. They're not only fighting the last war, they're fighting somebody else's.


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