Fact or fiction: Bipartisanship impossible in healthcare bill

My mom and I were talking politics this weekend and an interesting point came up that I thought I’d share – the tension between bipartisanship and re-election.  I was complaining that the Republicans gave up the chance to try to influence or shape parts of the healthcare bill by taking the “repeal” position and requesting the White House “start all over again.”  My thought was that if you know that a piece of legislation is likely going to be pushed through one way or the other, why not try to be involved in the process and get some beneficial clauses or provisions added?  It would essentially have been what Senator Nelson and Rep. Stupak did within their own party but the Republicans could have negotiated certain aspects of the bill and allowed it to pass with greater (or any) bipartisan support.  It was no secret that President Obama was going to make sure this bill passed, why not try to trade a vote for a role in a certain section or provision?

It was my contention that the Republicans were unwilling to trade their vote for a compromised bill because they were afraid to go back to their districts having voted for this bill.  They didn’t believe they could go back to their constituents and explain that they voted for the bill in exchange for some language/provisions protecting the middle class or small businesses.  They assumed, perhaps correctly, that they’d return home to a campaign based solely on a yes-vote for healthcare and lose.  So, at this point, I was blaming the media and the voters for not being reasonable enough to allow this type of strategy without taking it completely out of context.

We’ve reached a point in American politics where a Congressman cannot explain any sophisticated strategy or thought-process with the voters.  I think that it’s sometimes necessary to vote for things like this healthcare bill from a tactical or strategic position.  Meaning, you’re either trading certain language in the bill for your vote or you’re trading your vote for consideration of a future issue that will be coming up in the near future.  The media, and party loyalists, will brand that person a traitor or flip-flopper and they’ll lose the next election.

My mom had a different opinion.  She said that Obama and the Democrats said they wanted bipartisanship knowing that there was nothing on the table that the Republicans could work with or vote for.  Essentially, the Republicans tried to make different offers but none were in the areas that the Democrats wanted; therefore, the Democrats were able to claim bipartisanship and blame Republicans when it did not happen.

This is a good point.  Is bipartisanship even a reasonable goal on something that cuts to the heart of each party’s values? Perhaps the Democrats were banking on the fact that the Republicans wouldn’t be able to find any way, strategically or politically, to support this bill.  They knew no Republican could find a way to support it and thus it was safe to beg for bipartisanship.  It’s a little cynical but easily could be true.

If it is true, however, why didn’t the Republicans do a better job of showing the American people all the ideas they had in the area of healthcare?  I did not hear them advertise or publicize many counter-proposals or areas where the healthcare bill could be altered to make both parties happy.  Rather, I heard more high-level arguments centered on the fact that Americans do not want this bill and they should repeal the bill or start the process over.  In my opinion, that was not helpful for anyone because the bill passed without much input from anyone but those within the Democratic Party.

If it was somehow impossible for the Republicans to find any way to negotiate anything in this bill, they did a poor job of representing that position to the American people.  They seem to have come out of this process, once again, as the party of “No.” Granted, if they bill somehow fails or does not impact healthcare access or prices in a significant way, Republicans can take credit for their strategy.  This is a big risk and also involves counting on our lives getting worse to be successful.  Not a great goal for a political party that is supposed to working for our betterment.

If the Obama administration somehow orchestrated a process that was able to have his cake (passing the bill) and eat it too (making the Republicans look bad), that is also not a great goal for an administration, which was supposed to represent a new way of doing business.  Not that previous administrations have not done that, but this one was supposed to be different.

In short, either the Republicans won’t or couldn’t be involved in this bill.  Whichever it was, it is an all to familiar place in American politics.  I’m sure loyal Democrats reading this are thinking, “But this is what the Bush Administration did too” and “the Republicans were just obstructionists here.”  Loyal Republicans are thinking, “Obama was disingenuous and never wanted bipartisanship” and “this is the end of democracy as we know it.” It is likely that however we approached the healthcare debate before it passed will color our opinions after the fact.

Regardless, I was hoping that we were moving in a direction beyond these types of battles and that Obama would discover a way to push Washington beyond petty politics into real discourse.  Whoever is to blame, it does not appear that that much has changed. Yet.

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