Health Care Reform & The Cult Of Bipartisanship


Sen. Harry Reid is finally acting like Majority Leader–he’s instructing Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus to stop futilely chasing Republican votes for health care reform:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday ordered Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill.

Reid, whose leadership is considered crucial if President Barack Obama is to deliver on his promise of enacting health care reform this year, offered the directive to Baucus through an intermediary after consulting with Senate Democratic leaders during Tuesday morning’s regularly scheduled leadership meeting. Baucus was meeting with Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) Tuesday afternoon to relay the information.

According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes; Reid told Baucus it wasn’t worth securing the support of Grassley and at best a few additional Republicans.

[Emphasis mine]

First off, it’s nice to see Reid showing some spine, particularly against conservative Democrats–since the GOP is so weak, they’re really the only ones who can stand in the way of progressive reform.

But this is all part of a greater issue, a recurring problem when it comes to conservative Democrats in Congress–the cult of bipartisanship.

Don’t get me wrong, bipartisanship is a good thing–it’s great to be able to call a particular bill or initiative as ‘bipartisan.’  But bipartisanship should be a means to an end, not an end in and of itself–it should be a way to  help you pass a bill, not a condition for passing that bill.

But sometimes, conservative Democrats appear to care more about how many Republicans vote for a bill than for what the bill itself is supposed to accomplish, which is a problem when you can’t drum up Republican votes for a necessary piece of legislation.

Look, the Republican caucus in Congress is very small–the smallest it’s been in decades, smaller than at any other point in my entire lifetime. And because of that–and because most Republican moderates were defeated and replaced with Democrats–the Republicans who are left in Congress are far more conservative and in ideological lockstep than usual.

In other words, getting GOP support for major progressive initiatives like health care reform is going to be difficult, far more difficult than it was just a few years ago.

And, in the end, the American people don’t care about bipartisanship.  They want Congress to be effective; they want Congress to solve the significant problems our nation is facing.  When it’s all said and done, few people will remember whether or not a major initiative was passed with bipartisan support–but they will remember what that initiative did to help themselves and their families.

Democrats, don’t get caught up in the inside baseball.   Bipartisanship is good, but it isn’t necessary; with the current crop of Republicans in Congress, it certainly isn’t expected.  Just buckle down and pass legislation; if the GOP isn’t on board, that’s their loss, not yours.