Put aside, for a moment, whether this makes sense substantively. It makes absolutely no sense politically. Scaling down legislation basically means gutting the benefits that would go to the working and middle class. In other words, it would help fulfill the fear many of these voters already have and that opponents of reform have tried hard to stoke: That reform doesn’t have much to offer the typical middle-income American.
You can imagine why Republicans might think this is a dandy idea. But why on earth would Democrats agree?
Obviously one answer could be that some Democrats prefer to see health reform defeated, but owing to their partisan allegiance don’t want to come right out and say that.
As I’ve said from the beginning of this process, the most important known unknown in health reform is nothing to do with the Obama administration’s tactics and everything to do with the actual subjective premises of the handful of moderate Democrats who control the balance of power in the Senate. If Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Mary Landrieu, etc. want to see a universal health care plan enacted there’s nothing stopping them. But if they don’t want to see a universal health care plan enacted, neither the left nor the White House has any particularly impressive leverage to use against them. In the House of Representatives where the leadership does have more leverage, Waxman and Pelosi seem ready and able to deliver the votes necessary to pass a good bill. But if moderate Senators don’t want a good bill, we won’t get one. And I think it increasingly looks like they don’t want one.