Monday, August 17, 2009

True Stories (and others)

Here's a quick round-up on reactions to yesterday's big news about the (perhaps) death of the public option.

I fully agree with Nate Silver, who says: "I'm not persuaded that the lack of progressive willpower is responsible for compromises on bills like health care, climate, and the stimulus package." This isn't about will power; it's about counting votes. That's not to say that the pro-reform forces are necessarily making the best moves (although I tend to think they mostly are), but only that will power is almost certainly the wrong lens to look through. Similarly, while it makes sense for liberals to threaten to defeat a compromise bill in the House, the truth is that it's not a very powerful move, since everyone believes that no bill at all would be worse for those who favor liberal goals in heath care (and Democratic gains in the 2010 and 2012 elections).

Ezra Klein has a useful comment about exactly What It All Means. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a policy answer, nor does the usually helpful Jonathan Cohn have anything to add about the actual differences between "public option" and "co-ops." My understanding (from them and others) however is that there's every possibility that a "co-op" version of the bill could be at least as good, and possibly even better, from a pro-reform point of view than the likely emaciated public option.

Basically, I see two possible stories, and I don't think we know which one is correct. Story one is that the liberals are losing: if there's going to be a bill, it's going to be dictated by the 60th most liberal Senator...except that he's going to be trying to find the point that's conservative enough to get the 70th most liberal Senator, and that odds are that the whole thing will collapse, because the 70th most liberal Senator is making it no secret that he won't vote for something unless the 80th most liberal Senator will join him, and that's not going to happen.

The other possible story is that the liberals are winning. There's a lot of consensus on a lot of stuff that would constitute significant change that would go pretty far toward liberal goals. Obama successfully bought off enough of the major players, and the process now is about getting cover for the most vulnerable Democrats by making it clear that the Republicans are a bunch of crazies who will oppose any bill for partisan reasons, regardless of content. In this story, extended negotiations, dropping mock-controversial provisions, and renaming others all allow Democrats to claim they went the extra mile.

Now, one way or another, those in the party who were only going to be happy with a single-payer system weren't going to like the results, but that was decided during the presidential nomination process back in 2007 and 2008. What we need now, it seems to me, is some good reporting to figure out which of these stories is correct (what exactly are the co-ops? Will Baucus really move forward without the Republicans at some point in September?), although since the players aren't apt to be honest about their negotiating positions, we probably won't know the answer until we're a ways farther down the road.

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