Easier for a Camel to Pass Through the Eye of a Needle Than a “Skinny” Health Care Bill to Pass the Senate

I’m not as down as Jon Chait is on the substantive merits of the so-called “skinny” health care bill that some in the Obama administration contemplated falling back on in August and then again shortly after the MA special election. But I think he nails it when he says “I doubt you could get it through Congress anyway.” The problem is that while it’s true that the skinny bill is considerably cheaper than the comprehensive drafts, it’s not free. You’d still need to either increase the deficit or else pay for it with tax hikes.

When there’s a Republican President, conservatives love deficit spending. During the Bush years magical votes emerged to make Medicare more generous, to make farm subsidies more generous, to increase Title I education spending, to substantially increase foreign aid, and that’s on top of sundry corrupt earmarks and a couple of wars. But when a Democrat is in the White House the conservative orthodoxy switches and now only wars can be financed with deficit spending, but it’s still never permitted to increase revenue. Which means you can no more do a skinny bill than a fat one.

But I think the fact that we’re even talking about this highlights a sort of derangement of our politics in the direction of the White House. After all, the kind of Republicans who in principle might vote for a moderate bill are full-blown members of congress capable of acting on their own. If Olympia Snowe has some idea that she likes and that she thinks might appeal to moderates from both parties, then it’s really on her to come up with that proposal. After all, if this skinny bill weren’t a leak from a White House internal deliberation but the result of a conference call between Snowe, Susan Collins, Scott Brown, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Mike Ross, Bart Stupak, Joseph Cao, and Mike Castle then the Obama administration would have no choice but to take it seriously. But in life you normally negotiate with people who are coming to the table with proposals to discuss and votes they’re prepared to deliver. This business of watering ideas down on spec just doesn’t make any sense.