Daily Archives: February 23, 2010

The healthcare proposal Obama announced on Monday plainly has Democratic unity, rather than detente with Republicans, in mind. It narrows some of the differences between the Senate and House bills, but offers no concessions at all to the other side. It adds a new federal regulator for insurance rates (in most cases duplicating the work of state regulators), which might be quite a popular idea, with insurance companies announcing big rate increases. And it rolls back the tax on Cadillac plans (raising the premium threshold, delaying the start date). That is a great pity, since this was one of the few real incentives for economy in the Senate measure. Overall, it’s a slightly worse design than the Senate bill, but still far better than nothing, so I hope it gets done.

It’s true that the proposal entrenches Democratic preferences rather than saying, “we are open to new ideas”. But Republicans can hardly complain. Who believes they would have brought open minds to the summit in any event? But if Obama has decided on a Democrats-only strategy, one interesting question is what purpose Thursday’s “bipartisan summit” is intended to serve.

The idea must be to put pressure on Democrats to fall into line–sweetening the pill of a measure many don’t like (for any number of reasons) by making Republicans look ill-prepared and obstructionist for the cameras. Democrats might decide this works for them, but the Republicans will have to screw up quite badly on Thursday for voters at large to buy it. Going in, the whole event now looks too much like an ambush. Obama needed a bipartisan gesture or two for camouflage–some sign of good faith, sure to be rebuffed. The thinking must be that any such gestures would have made Democratic unity impossible. In other words, get the reform passed first; worry about public opinion later. As I said, quite a gamble.

Will stage one–just vote this thing through–succeed? Jonathan Chait, rejoicing over the coming conservative freakout, seems to think it will. Well, anyway, healthcare reform is “very far from dead,” he says. Megan McArdle disagrees. I’m in between. I’m hoping Obama succeeds on this, but I don’t see how the chances can be better than 50-50, bearing in mind the Democratic splits, the delays that reconciliation will introduce, and the fast-diminishing interval between now and the electoral consequences.

But perhaps, now I think of it, this is Chait’s position too.

[T]he legislative door to health care reform is wide open, and Democrats simply need to walk through it. By no means is it clear that they’ll succeed.

Like I said, 50-50 at best. Democrats really struggle with those wide open doors.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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