Democrats must be ready to go alone
Though some Democrats I have spoken with are disappointed that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus' long-awaited health-insurance reform bill did not attract any Republican support, Baucus, to his credit, has pledged to go forward with a full hearing on the bill.
Though it's not the ideal solution, if the GOP won't play ball, the Democrats have no choice. With the costs of health care rising annually, reform needs to happen now. The political stakes are also high. How will Democrats fare in the next election if, with 60 votes in the Senate, the party still can't succeed in getting anything accomplished?
The Republicans went to war with a vocal minority and won the battle. Come the November midterm election, does this mean they will win the war?
Something seems off about Democrats, with a huge majority, unable to push through reform. Baucus ended up writing a tepid, compromised and weak bill that has not attracted one single Senate Republican. Worse, he angered fellow Democrats crucial to its passage.
While there appears to be no hope of bipartisanship with today's Republicans reduced to a party of angry rhetoric and no ideas, Democrats must ask themselves that if any Senate vote on health care will be achieved via the reconciliation process, then why not at least make it a good bill.
It may be that Democrats have become victims of their own success; with such a large majority of Democrats in both legislative chambers, there are hardly any moderate Republicans left with whom one could seek a bipartisan compromise.
During his recent address to Congress and the American people, President Obama made some concessions to the GOP, especially on medical malpractice and tort reform. But on exactly what issues are the Republicans willing to compromise? None seems to be the answer, which is why leading Democrats on Capitol Hill are starting to demand that bipartisanship must be a two-way street.
The president needs to define compromise -- and bipartisan. I define compromise as a willingness to abandon and take less than sought, to achieve a goal with basic agreement. This means the Republicans should start by submitting their own plans to reduce costs and provide more choice and competition. They should tell the American people how they will pay for it. And they should tell their constituents how they would protect people who lose their insurance because they have pre-existing conditions.
In the House markups, Democrats passed more than 20 Republican amendments. During the summer, the Senate HELP Committee accepted more than 150 Republican amendments as it finalized its proposal. Finally, before releasing his draft, Baucus held dozens of meetings with Republicans in an attempt to find a bipartisan solution.
Yet Republicans continue to complain about the bill. They define bipartisan as "I can't support your health care reform, no matter how needed, because of this (fill in the blank) abortion, immigration, rationing, death panel and so forth." In short, too many Republicans have found an ideological issue with which to kill the whole process.
It's rule or ruin for Republicans on Capitol Hill. On health care, like other issues, they would like to have a one-party veto of what the electorate endorsed in the last election.
If the Democrats were to cave on each GOP "principal" or nonnegotiable position, they would wind up with a bill written exclusively by Republicans that favors their special interests. That's not compromise. Neither Republicans nor Democrats can be allowed to win by fostering acrimonious partisan divides. It's time to propose real solutions now.
On the positive side, the House Democratic Caucus is so diverse that if its members can gain a consensus on the legislation already proposed, then it's likely to be a good bill that reflects America's needs. In addition, if Democratic leaders can get the so-called moderate or "Blue Dogs" and the more progressive caucuses sprinkled with some new Democrats, they will achieve a consensus bill.
It's now crunch time. At some point, the Republican leaders must decide whether they want to be a part of solving our nation's health care crisis or just say no.
"We agree on about 80 percent of the issues right now," said Rep. Charles Boustany, who provided the Republican response to the president's address. "It's just a matter of hashing out those few areas where we disagree." Even with so much agreement, though, Republican leaders continue to insist that Democrats start the process over. It doesn't make any sense.
Some leaders on both sides of the partisan divide have zero interest in true bipartisan cooperation. They long ago ceased to believe in pulling the country together. They have gown cynical and seek only the acquisition and retention of power.
Democrats must be ready to go alone.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.