Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Grading Baucus So Far 1

I've been mostly defending the Gang of Six process to this point. How does the release of the bill this week change things? Remember, I'm interested here in process more than substance.

On the good side: Baucus meant it when he said that he'd have a bill by mid-September, contrary to a lot of liberals' predictions. I strongly disagree with this analysis of the political situation from Publius:
Baucus dragged out this process for months. In doing so, he exposed reform to all types of attacks. Yes, the attacks were inevitable, but the lack of a single bill limited supporters' ability to push back effectively. As of today, he has literally nothing to show for it.
Imagine an alternative world in which Baucus in which the Gang of Six was Baucus, Bingaman, Conrad, Snowe...and Schumer and Cantwell, replacing Grassley and Enzi. Suppose that a compromise was available, more or less along the lines that Baucus detailed today, and that Baucus had set a deadline not for September 15, but in plenty of time for a bill to reach the Senate floor before August recess. And, suppose that sixty votes could be found for that bill, so it did pass the Senate floor.

Now, we hit August...and we still have two bills, because there's no way that a conference committee could have completed its work before the recess. "Death panels" would no longer be something that was (supposedly) in a committee bill; it would be something that House and Senate Democrats had voted for. Sure, it would still be fictional, but at that point the political solution (dropping the misread portions of the bill for now) would be a lot less workable, since everyone would have their votes on record. Same for the supposed provisions about immigrants. Now, it's true that there will still be a period of time after Democrats have cast their initial votes for the bill but without a final, signed-into-law product to defend, but pushing back floor consideration until after the break minimized that exposure.

Meanwhile, Publius says that Baucus has nothing to show for the extended negotiations, since he didn't get a bipartisan bill, but I've argued throughout that what Baucus was buying was cover for Democrats who couldn't get Republican votes. That, I think, has been a success. CNN has Republicans polling 61/35 for obstructionist/constructive. ABC/WaPo has Republicans 62-31 "are not" making a good faith effort to cooperate, compared to a slim majority (50/44) who say that Obama and the Dems "are" making a good faith effort. That's what Baucus has to show for his negotiations. A Dems-plus-Snowe Gang of Six would have had the GOP squawking that they were left out of the process despite their desperate (and fictional) desire to cut a deal. That's been fully exposed now, not only to Democratic partisans who always expected it, but to anyone even remotely neutral.

So all in all, I think the delay has had several benefits with little down side. But that's only part of the story, which I'll continue in the next post.

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