JESSICA BADER: While a conference committee to iron out differences between the healthcare reform bills passed by the House and the Senate and final votes in both chambers on the resulting conference report still stand between healthcare reform and President Obama’s signature, the terms of partisan wrangling seem to have already shifted to a battlefield where a bill becomes law. Prominent Democrats and Republicans alike are already saying that GOP Congressional candidates will campaign on repealing healthcare reform legislation.
It should go without saying that repeal is unlikely as long as a Democrat is in the White House to veto it (even if Republicans were to retake both houses of Congress and the Senate were to eliminate the filibuster, a two-thirds majority in each house is still needed to override a presidential veto), so it doesn’t surprise me that Democrats would want to campaign on something they can deliver (preventing something that isn’t likely to happen). It shocks me, however, that Republicans would be so eager to play along, to promise their base something they probably can’t deliver so soon after placing a losing bet on their ability to stop a healthcare reform bill from passing.
At the points in the healthcare debate when the odds of a bill making it to Obama’s desk seemed slim, the typical analysis was that Democrats were headed for a 1994 redux as inability to pass core legislative priorities would depress turnout among the party’s base. There’s still potential for a demoralized base over some of the compromises made to secure the necessary votes for the bill, which is why I figured that Republicans would focus more on gloating about a bill that doesn’t contain a public option and will restrict insurance coverage of abortion.
In addition to rubbing salt in liberal wounds, this would enable the GOP to deflect from its failure on its core legislative priority – blocking the Democratic agenda. For all of the August rancor and talk of Waterloo and delaying tactics, the basic fact remains; those who wanted healthcare reform needed 60 Senators to pass a bill, while those who were opposed needed 41 Senators to kill it. While nothing is certain until there’s a signing ceremony, as things stand the side with the higher hurdles to clear (it’s a lot easier to do nothing than to do something, even before considering that 60 people need to agree to do something while only 41 need to agree to do nothing) succeeded and the side with the easier task mathematically and structurally failed.
Given the public’s understandable impulse to blame the party in power when things don’t get done, I do not begrudge the Republican strategy of obstruction and unanimous no votes despite my support of the agenda they so vehemently oppose. When the system acts to reward such behavior, some of the blame must go to the system rather than those who seek to exploit it to advance their self-interest. However, it’s a high-risk strategy that leaves those who employ it with no tangible accomplishments to tout if it doesn’t succeed, just the image of not being constructive and a grasp at the straw of somehow taking action to undo the action that was just taken over their objections. Having just lost a battle of their own choosing, the GOP looks as though it has been goaded into fighting a much tougher one in which they’ve let the other side set the terms.
CHRIS PUMMER: It remains to be seen how much steam conservatives bring with them to the voting booth in 2010 and 2012.
This Teabag or conservative movement, whatever you want to call it, lacks structure in a lot of different ways. For starters, the teabaggers are really just a conglomeration different groups with various interests that are largely undefined. That those interests don’t have definition is why you see all sorts of people lumped in this group — from legitimately angry populists to outright racist and radical elements.
Not only is there no policy prescription for the illnesses these people are complaining about, but I’m increasingly getting the sense that many in this group are seeking instant gratification instead of a fundamental shift in how government operates.
And you really need to be seeking that fundamental shift for a movement to grow legs and keep moving. That’s how anti-abortion advocates have maintained pressure on politicians for decades, and how pro-health reform advocates are close to getting movement on their issue.
But even with anti-incumbent feelings running strong, it won’t be easy as RNC chairman Michael Steele’s suggestion for tea-baggers to come home to the GOP. They might not feel like they have a home with a party that may have said no to health care reform, but delivered a resounding yes on a Medicare drug benefit earlier this decade that’s also blowing a hole in the federal deficit.
It won’t matter, however, if Republicans insist on only preaching to the choir that has been singing the song of dissent, even if out of key at times. The GOP will have to make the case to middle-of-the-road voters, and for that they need their own vision. We’ve seen too little of that during this year’s health care debate.