Chasing Phantom Deals

I agree with Steven Pearlstein about the importance of pragmatic compromise on social policy. And I think the Pearlstein Plan for health reform would be an acceptable compromise. But I really have to depart with him on this:

Although you’d hardly know it from all the shouting of recent weeks, there is a deal to be had here if only Democrats would be willing to take it. This is not a deal, mind you, designed to win the support of Republican leaders in Congress — at this point they’re determined to derail any health reform plan. Rather, it is the deal necessary to win broad support from an American public wary of federal deficits, anxious about losing the health care it already has and fearful of radical change.

A “deal” doesn’t need to be a deal with Republican leaders in congress but the premise of dealmaking is that it’s a deal with someone. There are a lot of items on the progressive wish list that I would give up in exchange for a solid guarantee that Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Chuck Grassley, George Voinovich, and Judd Gregg would vote “yes” on the overall package. Or you can vary the exact competition of the Senators. And throw in a dozen or so of the more moderate/vulnerable House Republicans. That would be a deal. That would essentially ensure that the swing block of Democratic Senators vote for the bill. And then you’d have a nice, tidy, solid deal that helps the American people.

But like Steve Benen I don’t see this deal. I don’t see a single, solitary Republican Senator offering anything in the neighborhood of this deal. In which case, it’s very hard for me to see Democrats securing cloture on any kind of health care bill at all. In which case there may be certain things that you just can’t get done through the reconciliation process. But there’s lots of stuff you can do through reconciliation. So it seems to me that the only reasonable course of action is to start drafting progressive legislation and try to get it done with 50 votes. If that brings other people to the table in order to strike a grand bargain, great. If not, then not so great. But a deal is only a deal if people on the other side want to make a deal.