Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday strongly urged Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to drop a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill.
Reid, whose leadership is considered crucial if President Barack Obama is to deliver on his promise of enacting health care reform this year, offered the directive to Baucus through an intermediary after consulting with Senate Democratic leaders during Tuesday morning’s regularly scheduled leadership meeting. Baucus met with Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Tuesday afternoon to relay the information.
According to Democratic sources, Reid told Baucus that taxing health benefits and failing to include a strong government-run insurance option of some sort in his bill would cost 10 to 15 Democratic votes; Reid told Baucus that several in the Conference had serious concerns and that it wasn’t worth securing the support of Grassley and at best a few additional Republicans.
This is certainly reassuring — not least because it’s coming from Reid, with whom many of the more liberal Democrats have had their problems in the past.
The whole 60-vote thing is being overblown, of course, as it’s unlikely that the Democrats will be able to secure unanimity on something as controversial as health-care reform, but I do think it’s time for the Democrats to stop trying to win over Republican support. The fact is, Republicans aren’t serious about reform, or at least not in the sort of reform that the American people actually need, which is a robust public system, and it boggles the mind why a majority party with 60 votes should need to kowtow before an obstructionist, ideologically rigid minority party that has no interest in real change. Republicans wouldn’t do it, so why should Democrats?
Let the Republicans come out against a public option that would fill the gap to ensure coverage for all Americans. Let them run on that.
It’s time for the Democrats, long past time, to do what needs to be done. Republicans aren’t into bipartisanship — and Democrats should just move on.
Reid’s push is also reassuring given the ongoing questions surrounding the White House’s commitment to a public option. Rahm Emanuel opened the door the other day to the possibility of dropping it, whereupon Obama may or may not have pushed back the other way.
Open Left’s Adam Green thinks that Emanuel “just went with his natural gut instinct — to be weak, and cave to Republicans,” and that the subsequent comment from Obama was “a great step.”
Actually, though, Emanuel’s comment may have been not so much instinctual as planned, allowing Obama to look like the good guy to pro-reform liberals and progresives. Slate‘s John Dickerson notes that Obama’s rebuttal was vague enough to allow him to go either way on the public option depending on the circumstances down the road. It’s an Obama-Emanuel good-cop-bad-cop routine that we’ve seen before.
While I think that Obama himself would prefer a robust public option, I’m just not sure how committed he is to it, given his pragmatism and apparent lack of unwavering principle. And that’s where the worry comes in: Will Obama compromise to the point where, in order to achieve reform, a reform bill is actually more Republican than Democratic?
Or is this just Obama being Obama, pushing compromise and conciliation (just as he does diplomacy with Iran), only to take a harder line (as he likely will with Iran) when bipartisan outreach fails, turning the other side’s refusal to negotiate or compromise in good faith against it, using that refusal to secure even greater popular support? Here’s hoping.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)