Thursday, May 2, 2013

Eric Cantor's Dilemma?

Ross Douthat is a fan of the ill-fated House health care initiative last week, which was torpedoed by a faction who decided that voting for a program to carry out a GOP talking point would, in this instance, count as supporting Obamacare. Douthat had previously bashed Republican politicians for not fighting for the policy ideas that some conservative wonks support, but now decides that Cantor deserves credit for trying -- because, Douthat believes, in his position he couldn't do more:
Because the Republicans are a minority in the Senate, because senators represent broader constituencies than congressmen, and because the structure of the upper chamber is designed to make compromise a necessity in any case, there’s a lot more room for Paul to be entrepreneurial on foreign policy (or for David Vitter to be entrepreneurial on banking reform, or for Marco Rubio to entrepreneurial — even if I think it’s in a mistaken cause — on immigration) than there is for a House leader charged with managing a fractious caucus to do the same.
Yes, but. The problem here isn't so much House vs. Senate, or even leadership vs. rank-and-file (although that is a real consideration), but an absolute, self-imposed bright line against working with Democrats. Douthat says, correctly, that "the House runs on partisanship." And yet: it doesn't have to, at least not always. The mechanisms that allow the majority party to get its way whenever it is united are very real and important, but they do not, in fact, preclude cross-party majorities from potentially succeeding.

In fact, Douthat gives away the game: "obviously House Democrats aren’t about to go along with a measure designed as part of a larger strategy to pick apart Obamacare." Well, yes. If, however, Republicans were trying to improve health care...that's something that House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and Barack Obama might well go along with. So it's not being in the House that's the problem, and that's forcing Cantor to win almost every single Republican vote; it's that we're talking here about an explicitly partisan strategy, with the only question about whether Cantor's tactics are better than those of other House Republicans.

That's not what Paul is up to on foreign policy, or Vitter on banking, or Rubio on immigration. They're trying to get something substantive done (or, at least, get a reputation for trying to get something substantive done), and none of them are, apparently, terrified of being pictured with a Democrat. And, presto, they can find Democrats willing to work with them.

It's probably true that Eric Cantor can't follow that course if he also wants to be Speaker some day. But that's not inherent in the House, and it's even possible that Cantor (and Boehner, and other House leaders) might try to persuade the rank-and-file that there are real policy gains available through some sort of bipartisanship. Unfortunately, there's little sign that either Cantor or the House Republican conference in general are very interested in real policy gains. And that, and not anything else about the House, is why Cantor doesn't actually deserve much "credit for the effort."


  1. Don't forget Toomey on gun control. The Senate, despite their own institutional dysfunction, is starting to see some of that partisan fever breaking. Maybe. A little.

  2. As any readers of Wonkblog can tell you, there are several fixes that would make Obamacare run more effectively. If the Republicans wanted to put together an Obamacare reform bill that increased the availability of affordable health care, helped control prices, and mitigated the role of the federal government in the new system, I'm sure they would be able to find many Democratic supporters to help craft a workable piece of legislation.

  3. Here are the continuing polls on Obamacare. Note that every single one is in the "disapprove" column. It's a good (R) ploy to say no to every (D) initiative because dems are hellbent on acting against the majority of Americans and dems will use any crack in resolve to do so.

    1. Good point! And, according to those polls, most people who want to change Obamacare want it to do more. Also, the majority want sensible gun control legislation, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and for gay people to be allowed to legally marry. I totally agree with you! Politicians should listen to the people!!!

    2. "And, according to those polls, most people who want to change Obamacare want it to do more."


    3. backyard, I'll give you a link and some answers if you're still here, but I don't want to spend the time on it if no one's reading this thread.

    4. kevin drum has a good round up of the most recent polling. You have to scroll down to the poll question about expanding/repealing. 50 percent want the law to do more. Around 40 percent want it repealed.

      Even more telling is the suggestion that people opinions about the law are really a proxy for their opinions about Washington.

      In any case, I agree with you completely: expand health care access via Obamacare, give immigrants a pathway to citizenship, restrict access to guns and increase government spending to bolster economic growth. If those clowns in Congress don't want to obey the will of the people, let's throw them out and put in folks who will work with our President!

    5. I concede that Obamacare is unpopular for complicated reasons.

    6. What an adorable reply! You have my sympathies. It must be difficult to be a conservative these days.

    7. I'm a paleo-libertarian, which means that American governance always looks god-awful to me, but the scene looks pretty dire for conservatives. Of course, watching the steady, grinding horror of ultra-progressive Europe must be a little disconcerting for progressives in America.


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