By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute
Let’s all step back and have a kumbaya moment here. It’s rare indeed to see over 10 percent of one political Party’s membership reach across the aisle in bipartisan opposition to their leadership’s highest legislative priority. And yet that’s what we saw in the House of Representatives on the $940 billion health care bill. In the end, 34 Democrats voted with all of the Republicans in opposing it. That wasn’t enough to stop the remaining Democratic majority from passing the bill, but it was a rare show of bipartisanship in today’s polarized politics all the same.
And the same thing happened in the Senate until the long knives and checkbooks came out. Enough Democratic senators joined with Republicans in opposing the bill that their leadership had to resort to things like the Cornhusker Kickback, Louisiana Purchase, and Gator-aid to bring the rogue sheep back into the fold. So that could have been a kumbaya moment too, except that the bribery and extortion right at the end tarnished its glow.
Some would argue that passing this bill on a straight party line majority with no extra votes in the Senate and only three extra votes in the House is about as partisan as you can get. But there’s also a cup half-full perspective. Despite having the presidency and historic margins in the House and Senate, it took 14 months and enormous political capital to pass a bill that poll after poll showed the American people clearly didn’t want. We wanted some of the reforms, but the more we learned about the bill the more unpopular it became. That outcome is far from perfect, but it shows that the accelerator isn’t stuck and the brakes still have some pad left on them.
It also shows how language can be twisted when the facts are inconvenient. People have been arguing that this is a purely partisan issue. But the fact is that there was bipartisan opposition to comprehensive health care reform all along, both in the Congress and among the American people. Sure, there were a majority of Democrats on one side of the debate and a majority of Republicans on the other, but where they came together was in opposition to, not in favor of, the 2,700 pages of legislation that finally made it through. Normally it’s the bipartisan congressional majority that prevails, but in this case it was the bipartisan minority that was defeated. Is that what President Obama meant by “post-partisan” politics: that opposing points of view should simply be dismissed?
Clearly there is a plurality in this country in favor of reforming our health care system. And clearly it needs reforming if we are to contain costs and increase access. The question has always been what and how much to reform, not whether to make changes. Our normal legislative process would have involved the president and his congressional allies making a proposal and then going through a process of compromises to get a bipartisan majority. But that didn’t happen this time, and that’s why bipartisanship got flipped on its head.
This time the congressional leadership created their plan with no Republican inputs. Republican ideas, amendments or bills did not receive hearings much less votes. Fair enough. When you’re the majority you get the gavel. What that meant, though, was that the game was played between two Democratic teams with the Republicans on the sidelines. Blue Dog Democrats slowed the bill in the House. And “moderate” Democrats had to be bought off in the Senate. And so when 34 House Democrats couldn’t be bought off in the end, they formed a bipartisan coalition with the Republicans who had been effectively forced to stand around in street clothes watching the game.
What this flip-flop means is unclear, but history indicates it’s the bipartisan view that best represents the majority and eventually prevails. That would seem to mean that the health care fight is far from over as new alliances are struck and people make their voices heard at the polls come November.
For Immediate Release
Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and education center based in Bozeman, MT.
He can be reached at:
67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B
Bozeman, MT 59715