Saturday, July 25, 2009

'Partisan or Not, a Tough Course on Health Care'

Good story here. (Read the whole thing.)

Even if he goes the bipartisan route and succeeds, the end result could be comparatively modest: Perhaps fewer than 10 Senate Republicans, and perhaps not even that many in the House, party officials said. Social Security, by contrast, passed in 1935 with the support of 16 of the 25 Republican senators and 81 of the 102 Republican representatives. . . .

“Bipartisanship is a good thing in major welfare-state enterprises if they are to stick,” said David Mayhew, a professor of political science at Yale. “Otherwise, they may suffer legitimacy problems and come apart.”

That said, it is hardly clear that a bipartisan agreement on health care is even possible. A string of Congressional defeats has recast the Republican Party, leaving it smaller, more conservative and more combative.

“I wouldn’t even have hesitated two, four years ago when the numbers were so close: It would have been absolutely yes on bipartisanship,” said Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana.

He said he still believed it was important, but added, “The Republicans are reduced to a core, so there aren’t that many pragmatists left to work things out.”

James A. Thurber, the director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, said that 30 years ago, about one-third of Republicans in the House and Senate were moderate.

“In the last 30 years, we continually lost the middle, ideologically,” he said. “And the loss of the moderates makes it very difficult to get bipartisanship for major policy changes.”

The Senate Finance Committee right now offers the lone hope for the White House in its search for Republican support. That is also where the trade-off is particularly stark. It would mean giving up on some big principles, like a public plan to compete with private insurers, in return for what could be just a few Republican votes, a veneer of bipartisanship.

It is the prospect of that trade that has some Democrats worried and is another source of pressure for the White House.

“If they overstep the line in the negotiations to bring three or four Republicans along, there will be a reaction among Democrats unlike anything you’ll hear among Republicans,” Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, said Saturday. “There is a false assumption that anything you can work out with a handful of Republicans will be embraced by Democrats in the House, the Senate and across the country. That is totally wrong.”

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said that while he thought it was important to make a strong effort to get bipartisan support, that would not trump passing legislation Mr. Obama wanted.

“Ultimately we are going to be measured by what we do, and not by the process,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Process can’t be more important than the outcome of the legislation.” . . .

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