The Trouble With Half-Measures

Jon Chait makes an excellent point on the tension between the desire to do bipartisan compromises and the desire to do policy that makes sense:

The fetishization of compromise often overlooks whether such a compromise makes any inherent sense. Not all issues lend themselves to compromise. Joe Lieberman recently piped up that he prefers to take minor steps on health care — such as banning insurance company discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — and forego covering the uninsured.

But, if you forbid insurance companies from discriminating against the sick without bringing healthy people into the risk pool, then healthy people would have no reason to buy insurance. They could just wait until they get sick and take out a policy, and the insurance companies would have to sell them one. Rates would skyrocket, and the whole system would become unaffordable. Some say we should build a bridge across a river. Others say we shouldn’t. Joe Lieberman wants to build a bridge halfway across.

Some issues are really purely quantitative in nature. We could close the deficit by raising taxes, or we could do it by cutting spending, or we could go fifty-fifty. And some issues are susceptible to logrolling — the right could accept higher taxes to subsidize insurance for the poor in exchange for making malpractice law more favorable to defendants. But oftentimes at the core of things you simply have a question of whether or not you agree with a certain approach to policy. And in those cases, there’s no sense in trying to seek a middle ground, what you need to try to seek is a workable version of the overall policy concept.