Sunday, March 14, 2010

Too Much Paranoias

Politicians are paranoid about re-election.  And the current contender manifestation of that paranoia is the plan by Members of the House who apparently believe that they can keep themselves from harm by avoiding separate votes on the two parts of the pass-and-patch legislative plan for health care reform.  I talked about this during the week, just explaining the whole screwy thing, but after I read this excellent Jonathan Cohn item I thought maybe I should be a little more blunt. 

Look, this is nuts.  If health care reform passes and then turns out to be unpopular, there's no way that Members of the House will be spared because they didn't vote directly for the Senate bill.  If both parts of pass-and-patch are enacted, no one is going to go after them because they voted for the Nelson deal and then voted to repeal it a few hours or even a few days later.  No one, that is, who isn't already going to go after them on it.  If Republicans believe that running against the Nelson deal is a good idea, they're going to do it, regardless of how the House structures the vote -- indeed, regardless of whether the House votes at all ("He's one of those Democrats.  You know, the ones who tried to sneak through all those corrupt backroom deals on the government takeover health care bill."  See -- the attack goes on, even without any vote at all). Meanwhile, if they do structure a complex process, they can be sure that Republicans are going to blast the process -- and, if the Dems try to avoid separate votes, a lot of editorial writers and other makers of conventional wisdom are going to buy the GOP line. 

All of which will make little if any difference to most voters, but it's still a foolish way to fight the spin war.

Look, Democrats are committed to this bill.  They're committed if the bill dies, they're committed if the bill passes, and they're committed whichever way they structure their votes.  Sure, they might as well repeal all those evil deals (which, it's worth remembering, are probably responsible for getting the bill this far, and at least in my view are a reasonable cost of doing business -- not that any Democrat should ever 'fess up to that particular reality in public).  But as soon as the bills pass, the spin war changes -- and it would be a very foolish move to make the first step of that spin war one that will look bad to the Broders of the world.  The Democrats should just take the votes, and focus on the things they really want to sell about this bill, which are the immediate and long-term benefits for the American people.

(And on the other side, Republicans are in my opinion wasting their time by whining about process instead of talking about those parts of the bills that they think will be bad or unpopular or both).   


  1. Prof. Bernstein -- I just want to say, you're my new favorite blogger, seriously. I think a lot of political bloggers could stand to stp back and get a more structural take on things quite often, and obviously your position is one in which that's pretty much a given. At the same time, a lot of academic political analysis -- or even, more to the point, political analysis for a general readership by academics (political scientists in particular) -- to perhaps repeat a stale cliche, can operate at a far too abstract level that eliminates both subjective political viewpoints as well as the contingent indeterminacies (even though they usually can be fit into a larger structural analyis) that to a large comprise what ordinary people experience week-by-week as "politics." Your work (here) really seems to combine the structural-theoretic viewpoint that hopefully any political scientist would bring to political analysis with an ongoing, non-dismissive interest in the sometimes-seemingly arbitrary or mundane particular minutiae and vagaries of the political system we have to try to live and work in/under. Your writing crystalizes for me what makes for good political analysis -- a committed interest in explaining what (really!) is going on that doesn't define out of the discussion any view about what ought, or what it's all happening for to begin with.

    It's good that you're getting exposure at The Daily Dish; seeing as how this can't really become your day job, I'm not sure how much you're looking to increase your blogging exposure, but your work very much deserves to be read by a greater audience, and it would be very good for the national conversation if a publication of some repute somewhere were to step in and give your analysis a higher profile. I'd be inclined to go out of my way to get my hands on such a publication...

  2. Is this the kind of thing where one or two nervous House Democrats really think these procedural shenanigans will help, and so Pelosi is doing it just to get them on board?

    If so, this is just another instance of the general dynamic around health care reform for all of the last year. Key people will only support the legislation if something silly happens; the leadership thus has to do the silly. Good on you and Cohn for pointing the silliness out, but let's bear in mind (1) who's responsible and (2) how small the costs are in this particular case.

    On a different topic, I agree with Michael.

  3. My impression is that the rationale for the House going for the "deeming" route, in which neither bill becomes law until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill (Cohn's Option 3), is to pressure the Senate to pass the House reconciliation as is. This also makes no sense, unless as a House Dem you regard Senate Dems as a more dangerous or treacherous adversary than the Republican Party. It would make an optimal result in reconciliation less likely, because as Cohn points out it would give Senate Republicans an incentive to drag out reconciliation, whereas the House passing the Senate bill so that Obama can sign it would remove that incentive. But again, I suspect that the motive is more to avoid passing the Senate bill on trust than to get electoral cover. Put another way, going this route would imply being more unhappy with the prospect that the Senate bill would become law without any reconciliation fix, or without a satisfactory reconciliation fix, than with the prospect that the whole effort to pass comprehensive reform would fall apart. Call it the "better dead than unreconciled" approach.

  4. ASP said...
    "My impression is that the rationale for the House going for the "deeming" route, in which neither bill becomes law until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill (Cohn's Option 3), is to pressure the Senate to pass the House reconciliation as is. This also makes no sense, unless as a House Dem you regard Senate Dems as a more dangerous or treacherous adversary than the Republican Party. "

    As a block, which is all that matters, the Senate Dems are one small step less treacherous. Remember that there are a half-down or so 'ConservaDems' who are only with the Democratic Caucus for convenience; if the GOP took the Senate in 2010, they'd caucus with the GOP, and maybe even switch parties.

  5. Barry,

    Every single Democratic Senator is more liberal than every single Republican Senator. It's certainly possible that Lieberman could switch, and I suppose one could make a plausible case for (Ben) Nelson, but both voted for health care reform, and Holy Joe is carrying the DADT repeal bill. They're not very much like Republicans, really.


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