Washington, D.C.: In watching the Senate Finance committee hearings, it seems like Baucus and Conrad are acting more like Democrats (despite Conrad's talk about the French health care system). Both have refuted Republican Senators' points and have called them out for peddling falsehoods and using dilatory tactics. What do you think accounts for this change in behavior?
Ezra Klein: I'm not sure it's such a change. When the attacks are coming from the left, they seem right-leaning. When they're coming from the right, left-leaning. Baucus and Conrad are moderate for Democrats, but they're still a lot more liberal than Republicans. And both of them do seem to want to pass this bill.
That's exactly correct. It's easy to get carried away, but the basic situation in the House and Senate is that every single Democrat is more liberal than any Republican. Ben Nelson votes to the left of Olympia Snowe, and there's really a very large gap between Conrad (or Baucus) and, say, Voinovich or Lugar. Indeed, one of the main differences between 1994 and 2009 is that there still were a few real southern Democrats remaining back then, notably Richard Shelby in the Senate, who did have a lot more in common with mainstream Republicans than with mainstream Democrats. Today, basically the entire Democratic party (as it exists in Congress) is all in the same "mainstream" position. They have their differences, but they all belong (ideologically at least) in the same party. The only real significant exception to that is Joe Lieberman on national security issues -- although if it's the issue you care about, then any particular position can be very significant.
Moreover, it's not as if there are no constituents out there who fall more or less where Conrad and Baucus fall. So while it's obviously painful for liberals to find that they worked real hard to get Obama elected only to find that their brand of progressives are not a clear majority and can't automatically get what they want, it's also the case that there are plenty of people who voted for Obama (and Democratic Congressional candidates) even though they aren't as liberal as Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and John Kerry. All of which is to just repeat what I always say, which is that some types of frustration are just inherent in democracies.