While Harry Reid and his Gang of Ten await the CBO scoring on the latest complex compromise proposal, it might be well to pause for a moment and reflect on how this enormously important debate has developed in the past eight months or more.
It was obvious to virtually everyone, when it began, that the process would be lengthy, contentious, tedious, complex, and fraught with political manoeuvres and dangers. Five House committees, two or three Senate committees, all debating a fundamental reorientation of one seventh of the entire American economy. Nothing this complex has been attempted in generations.
At the very beginning of the process, the Republicans made a decision. Since they are not stupid -- vicious, perhaps, despicable, undoubtedly, deeply in debt to special corporate interests, inevitably, but not stupid -- I assume the decision was conscious, calculated, deliberate, and much debated in Republican circles. The decision was to try to destroy the Obama presidency by doing everything in their power to defeat any attempt at health care reform, virtually regardless of its content. They knew that they could muster forty votes in the Senate, and it was quite unclear whether Harry Reid could hold a fractious coalition of fifty-eight Democrats and two Independents. [Remember that at this point, it was not yet clear whether Al Franken would prevail in his Senate contest].
So, despite the exhausting efforts of MaxBaucus to secure a bi-partisan coalition in his committee, the Republicans steadfastly voted against everything.
And the result? They have rendered themselves completely irrelevant to the process of negotiating a final bill. Despite their endless posturing on the floor of the Senate, despite the Tea Baggers and the disruptions in summer town hall meetings, they have completely closed themselves out of the crafting of the final bill. There is no doubt that, had they chosen to engage in genuine bi-partisan negotiations, they could have played an important role in writing the bill. But they chose instead to gamble on bringing Obama down.
Now, all of this is rather new even to folks like myself who are obsessed with politics. But it cannot have been at all new to the senior members of the Republican Senate caucus. They must have been quite well aware that their chosen strategy guaranteed them no input into the bill finally brought to a vote before the two houses of Congress. They were even willing to desert their corporate patrons, who may have been counting on them to make the final bill friendlier to corporate interests. Their lust for the kill, for destroying the Obama presidency in its first year, took precedence over everything else.
And so we have the spectacle, now, of intense negotiations being conducted entirely among -- Democrats. To be sure, corporate interests are hardly unrepresented in those closed meetings. But the absence of any Republicans at the table tilts the balance of forces markedly leftward of where it would have been otherwise.
Will the Republican gamble pay off? Will they, at the last moment, peel away Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman or Evan Bayh or Mary Landrieu? I think it is clear that the answer is no. The momentum is so great now to pass something that the most those people can do is to push the bill marginally to the right.
Think what this will mean. First, it will be, and will be seen as, an enormous victory for Obama. Hence, the Republicans will have lost. Second, a wide variety of extremely important reforms and changes will have been enacted, whatever the final shape of the bill. Everyone has agreed to stop insurance companies from denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. Everyone has agreed that thirty million or more Americans now uninsured will become insured. There are countless other good things in the proposed legislation that are not even in dispute.