Bipartisanship, Politico-Style


Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico offers her view of what real bipartisanship would look like:

If President Barack Obama really wanted to show he’s serious about winning over Republicans on health care reform, he could offer up some key concessions at Thursday’s summit, like caps on malpractice awards or allowing insurers to sell across state lines.

And if Republicans wanted to reciprocate, they could at least acknowledge the congressional scorekeepers are right – the Democratic plans cut the deficit in the long term and rein in health care costs.

Look, this is absurd. If Obama wants bipartisan support then as Brown says he’ll have to offer key concessions on policy issues. But if Republicans want to reciprocate then they have to offer policy concessions of their own. Remember what happened the last time Obama offered concessions on malpractice:

So, right there in the Cabinet Room, the President put a proposal on the table, according to two people who were present. Obama said he was willing to curb malpractice awards, a move long sought by the Republicans and certain to bring strong opposition from the trial lawyers who fund the Democratic Party.

What, he wanted to know, did the Republicans have to offer in return? Nothing, it turned out. Republicans were unprepared to make any concessions, if they had any to make.

And that’s why we can’t have a bipartisan bill. Republicans didn’t say they were willing to make only small concessions in exchange for malpractice reform. Nor did they say that malpractice reform wasn’t enough to get the concessions they want and here’s some other thing that they’re willing to do. I think the Obama administration’s tendency to drone on about the “Republican ideas” in the bill is serving to help obscure the basic gulf between the parties. The core, unquestionable premise of the past 20 years worth of conservatism is that taxes must always go down and never go up. But expanding coverage to tens of millions of Americans requires substantial new revenue. Offering “concessions” to Republicans in exchange for tax increases to pay for expanded coverage is like offering someone a million dollars to sleep with his wife.

You can ladle partisanship on top of that. We saw with the jobs bill that it’s like pulling teeth to get Republicans to vote for an Obama administration initiative even when the initiative consists entirely of tax cuts. You’re just never going to get Republicans to back a bill that involves higher taxes, and you’re never going to do comprehensive health reform without higher taxes. That’s the concession Republicans would need to be willing to make for bipartisanship to be possible, and they’re clearly not willing to make it. This is a problem for journalists who love to prattle about hypothetical compromises, but coping with that problem by redefining “concession” such that “lying less about Democratic proposals” constitutes one isn’t the solution.