Rewarding Failure

By Ryan McNeely

Glenn Greenwald notes the seediness of Liz Fowler going to the White House to help implement health care policy given that she used to be VP of WellPoint, and correctly points out that this hire is at odds with the administration’s promise to “close the revolving door.” But I wanted to pick up on another troubling aspect of this decision Greenwald mentions: the retroactive seal of approval this seems to grant to the approach taken by Fowler’s boss, Senator Max Baucus.

This is the same Max Baucus that openly admits he royally screwed up by dismissing the opinions of everyone to his left. The same Max Baucus that Rahm Emanuel had to supposedly secretly plot to undermine in order to keep the White House’s options open. It’s no surprise that when Dana Goldstein outlines the “10 Biggest Health-Care Mistakes,” fully half of them are directly or indirectly related to Baucus’ “Gang of Six” thumb-twiddling. Of course, for all the wasted time he got nothing.

The kicker, though, is that when Speaker Pelosi announced that she would include reconciliation instructions as part of the House health care effort, Baucus was condescendingly dismissive:

“The fact of the matter is that I don’t think the House is really thinking through the affect that reconciliation is going to have on the end game,” Baucus said. “And the end game is much more in jeopardy under reconciliation.”

Whoops. It turns out that because of Baucus’ inexplicable something-for-nothing delays which led to the loss of the filibuster-proof majority before the Senate could act, health care reform would not have passed without reconciliation. There aren’t a shortage of people who would like to work for Barack Obama, so when someone is offered a job to implement White House policy, one can assume that the White House thinks that he or she is the best person for the job. Ironically, Fowler is getting a job that wouldn’t exist at all had Baucus’ view of the matter won the day.


After it became clear that Baucus’ strategy was a failure, Ezra Klein wrote, “Conceding so much in return for so little isn’t just bad politics — it’s bad precedent. Why should Republicans sign onto Baucus’s proposals in the future if they can simply adjust the bill to their liking and then withhold their support at the end?” Indeed. And why should Democrats in Congress continue to fight hard for White House priorities in the future if the White House signals that the model for good health care legislating is best represented by Max Baucus and his staff?