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Maybe The Problem With Bipartisanship Is Uniformed Pundits Advocating For Terrible Ideas

Steven Pearlstein, in his column today, attempts to address the issue of our broken Senate and the problems with bipartisanship. He rightly address how the system should work, even though it clearly does not.

The only way a democratic system like ours can work is if the majority party acknowledges that winning an election means winning the right to set the agenda and put the first proposal on the table, though not the right to get everything it wants. By the same logic, if members of the minority party want to influence that policy, they have to understand that it will require them to accept some things they don’t like to get some things they do.

This would be fine if the minority party actually had good ideas. The problem is that Pearlstein, like many in Washington, can’t admit the Republicans have no solutions to issues like health care, and most of their “solutions” would just make the problem worse. Notice the areas in which he says Democrats should give in to the Republicans and why:

On health care, a compromise would include government-supervised insurance exchanges where small businesses and uninsured people buy insurance; a requirement that everyone buy insurance, with subsidies for low-income households; and a package of insurance reforms that prevent insurers from denying coverage or raising premiums when people grow old or get sick. To make it all affordable, Democrats might have to give up expanding the Medicaid program, pare back the basic insurance package, drop the employer mandate and swallow a tax on Cadillac insurance plans. Republicans would have to accept some regulation of insurer profits and prices charged by doctors, hospitals, medical-device makers and drug companies.

This is just nonsense, Pearlstein is arguing for two completely opposing things at the same time. He is saying Democrats should make the bill cheaper by making changes that would make it dramatically more expensive.

I know the Republican party does not like Medicaid expansion or the employer mandate, but they both save the government money. There is a reason House Democrats decided to expand Medicaid to 150% of the federal poverty level instead of 133%; that change saved the bill $25 billion. It is cheaper to just give people Medicaid than to help them with subsidized private insurance. Public insurance programs like Medicaid/Medicare are dramatically more cost effective than private insurance. Scaling back the Medicaid expansion could easily add over a $100 billion to the cost of the bill.

The same goes for the employer mandate. Dropping it makes the bill cost much more–not less–and decreases the number of people who gain insurance. The main reason that the House bill expands insurance coverage more cost effectively is because of the employer mandate. Without a strong employer mandate, people will be dropped into the exchange, where the government will be force to subsidize their insurance.

Until the Washington pundits are prepared to say that one party’s ideas are just stupid, there is not much hope for good legislation. Democrats should not be expected to give up on good policy and fiscally conservative ideas just because Republicans are being irrational. Nor should Republicans if the roles were reversed. I have no problem with a system where Democrats are forced to accept actual good policy from the other side, but a system that forces the party in power to accept terrible ideas just because the minority party says so is clearly broken. Pearlstein should first find out if a Republican idea makes sense before advocating Democrats accept it and, as a result, blow up the cost of health care reform by implementing Republican’s demands that the system be more wasteful.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at