The Private Intellectual
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010  

Nothing Succeeds Like Success
UPDATED

Winning usually helps. The first poll I've seen since Sunday's vote shows a remarkable reversal of what previous polls had shown, with a clear plurality now calling the bill a good thing and a smaller-than-usual minority giving Republicans good marks for their handling of the issue. My guess is that of every ten people who expressed opposition to the bill or the fix, no more than two could name a single provision included in them. As the news shifts from the political struggle to the actual provisions, some of this opposition is bound to cool or even evaporate.

The present fad for repealing the bill (or challenging it in court), then, is just an attempt to re-fight the last battle on constantly deteriorating terrain. In the tea-party conception of politics as perpetual therapy, I can see the point of doing this, but Republicans who actually want to win elections and govern someday will have to come up with a better message. In fact, there's a good case to be made that a big reason the Republicans lost so completely was their unwillingness to make a serious proposal of their own. "Kill the bill" works well as a chant, but it offers nothing to anyone. I still think that if Mitch McConnell had lined his caucus up behind the Wyden bill--the real one, not the version with no insurance regulations and no subsidies for premiums--that it might have had a chance. I would probably have preferred it to what we got. But Democrats and Republicans alike were afraid it went too far towards unraveling the employer-based insurance system, so they left it alone.

And so they lost the biggest domestic-policy battle of my lifetime and their first reaction is to set themselves up to lose it over and over again. Don't get me wrong--Democrats will still lose seats this year, though probably fewer than if HCR had died. And there will be continual battles over adjusting the provisions of the bill to make them more or less regressive, generous, etc. But the public will quickly lose--is already losing--any appetite to chuck children with pre-existing conditions off insurance, to rescind tax credits for small businesses that insure their employees, and so on. But Republicans would be very unwise to interpret any gains they make in November as a mandate to attack HCR. It's far smarter to move on and prepare for the political battles of the future.

UPDATE: So now the word is "repeal and replace." Great work there, Mitch. Given that Republicans had over a year to propose serious alternatives, describe the shape of attainable compromises, or offer narrower measures and came up with exactly squat, I can only imagine what will now be demanded of that hamster wheel that passes for Mike Pence's brain. Baucus (and to a lesser extent Obama) was desperate for Republican votes and was willing to give away the store to get them. Wyden-Bennett was a plausible, if daring alternative that Republicans decided to leave on the table. After Scott Brown's election, my guess is that the White House would have leaped at an offer to expand high-risk pools and, say, drop Medicare eligibility to 55 along with a few cost-saving tweaks. But Republicans chose instead to try to kill the whole project, and now all of those doors are closed, never to open again. If this is anything more than a slogan, Mitch sure picked a bad time to get serious about policy.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 2:15 PM
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