Sunday, November 8, 2009

Consequences of Maximalism 3

Finally finishing a set of posts that was interrupted last week. This series is about the risks that Republicans take by taking extreme positions. I talked already about the electoral risks, but there are legislative risks as well.

Two things. The first one Ezra Klein covered well last month:
No Republican save Olympia Snowe has actually come forward with a concrete set of proposals that could permit them to sign onto the final legislation. Which is a shame, as there are actually places where conservative ideas and Republican cover could have bettered the bill...Because Democrats had no Republican cover, they could not sacrifice a single member of their party. That's meant that they couldn't be courageous on taxes, and they couldn't tell the unions to stuff it when they demanded that the exchanges remain constricted. Republicans complain that the bill is too liberal (though the Senate Finance Committee's bill is actually not very liberal at all), but that's in part because no Republicans were willing to offer their votes in return for making it more conservative.
That's exactly right -- but that's mostly about policy, not politics (although their inability to negotiate on behalf of Republican-oriented interest groups has political risks, as can be seen in the AMA's decision to join with Obama against the Republicans).

There's a second risk, however, and it's the one identified by a guy who seems to know something about politics:
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) told Sam Stein the president "talked about the politics and he said that the Republicans want us to fail." Waxman added that Obama said, "None of you can expect the Republicans not to go after you if you vote against this bill. They want this bill to go down for their own partisan reasons."
That's from Steve Benin. Steve also noticed that the Republican claims during the House floor debate were unusually nonsensical:
[A]n entire political party has committed itself to repeating talking points with no basis in reality. Claims have been routinely presented, debunked, and shamelessly repeated anyway. Arguments ranging from "fascism" to "death panels" to "socialized medicine" have become eerily common, despite having no connection to reality.
Which is just to say that Republicans have chosen a strategy of making the most outlandish claims at all times.

And there, as Barack Obama saw, is an opportunity for Democrats. If any health care reform is a "government takeover," then why not go for a public option. If any vote for health care reform is a fascist takeover and the end of the constitutional system of government, then Democrats have little to lose by voting for a fairly liberal bill -- because a moderate bill will get the same treatment.

Now, none of this is a certain consequence of the Republican strategy. It's possible that they will succeed in scaring the Democrats so much that Dems will simply drop all of their campaign promises. Doesn't look like that's going to happen, but the Senate hasn't acted yet. My guess, however, is that the Republicans are following a strategy that has a lot more downside than upside. Indeed, I think that it may turn out, when we hear the full stories, that the rhetoric that greated the Senate Finance Committee bill (with no public option) was a big factor in Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi deciding to include a public option in their merged bills. Once it was clear that the "government takeover" claims were going to be around regardless of whether the bill had a public option, there was very little reason not to include it.

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