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Thoughts On The Health Care Summit

There’s a healthy debate on the left today about the utility of yesterday’s health care summit. One side believes that the summit elevated Republicans and treated their ideas as reasonable and legitimate – or at least that was one impression in the media. Those media members who actually paid attention to the substance of the arguments and not the “optics” saw pretty plainly that Republicans aren’t interested in fixing the health care crisis:

I’m not sure what else was accomplished at Thursday’s Blair House summit, but surely one result is that we learned what Republican “leaders” really think about health care and health insurance.

The most important thing Republicans think is that if there are Americans who can’t afford the insurance policies that private insurers are willing to offer, then that’s their problem — there’s nothing the government or the rest of us should do about it.

This is broadly true, and Paul Krugman and EJ Dionne back this analysis up. But more importantly, Steven Pearlstein concludes that what legitimate ideas (his words, not mine) Republicans did bring up will not yield a single vote, so it would be pointless to even bother to negotiate with them.

And that’s the point. A healthy portion of Village media believes that bipartisanship, in this case, would consist of Democrats agreeing to Republican policies and Republicans acknowledging non-partisan math. There’s no exchange of ideas here because Republicans surmised long ago that a) any passage of practically any health care reform would hurt them politically, and b) refusing to compromise has yielded more and better compromises from Democrats than through any other means.

The way to end this dynamic is to stop compromising and rewarding Republicans for their intransigence. The bill that will be passed looks generally like a moderate Republican bill from the mid-1990s. The stated goal of the summit was to offer MORE compromises, to make it easier for Democrats to then throw up their hands and plow forward when they get rebuffed by the minority. Regardless of what you think of that strategy, the content of the bill in the exchange is actually demonstrably worse. And ultimately, Democrats will live or die with the content.

I don’t think it was a problem to have the summit and “elevate” Republicans; they’re elevated on the floor of Congress every single day. The problem is a political environment where such summits are viewed as necessary, where political parties are rewarded more for thwarting agendas than enacting them. This dynamic, more than anything, has led to American decline.

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David Dayen

David Dayen