Monday 21 September 2009

Obama’s walk-away position

Let’s look again at the “negotiation” between the reformers and the obstructionists.

Obama and the Democrats have given ground on single payer, on tort reform, on abortion, on immigrants, deficit spending, tax increases on middle class, “death panels”, forcing people to buy insurance even when costs come to 13 percent of annual income, banning cuts in Medicare benefits, coops governed by members rather than the government, coops not government sponsored, coops without guaranteed government subsidy beyond a certain date; small business tax credits; allowing private insurers to sell across state lines; McCain’s catastrophic health care plan; state-level coops which insurers would be able to crush easily…

The Republicans and the other obstructionists said no to an independent insurance board, no to single payer, no to mandating employer participation, no to health care information technology, no to comparative effectiveness research, no to eliminating overpayments to insurers, no to the public option, no to the trigger option, no to coops. And then at one minute to midnight they offer…a trigger that will never be pulled, and an extra $9 per person per year in health coverage.

That’s their notion of compromise.

As I said earlier, the Democrats need to take the public option bill to the parliamentarian and figure out what goes through reconciliation and what doesn’t. And THEN they need to unveil it publicly, and show the obstructionists what happens when they don’t negotiate in good faith because they don’t think they need to.

Well, they need to.

One of the principal axioms of negotiating, is that the other team needs to know you have a walk-away position: if the other team can’t even come close to that position, you walk away, and pursue more drastic options, i.e. reconciliation.

And although the Democrats are unlikely to overrule the parliamentarian’s rulings on reconciliation, they can in fact do so – and the parliamentarian knows it. His predecessor overruled the Republicans too many times, and the Republicans didn’t just overrule him from the chair (the Vice President), they fired him outright, which the majority party can do. That’s how the current parliamentarian got the job – which he remembers quite vividly.

Which means that all the close calls will go to the majority party, particularly since they are likely to remain in the majority for many years to come.

And just to turn up the heat a bit, Pelosi told a Philly crowd that the public option will pass in the House in a few weeks. The House leaders were showing signs that they wanted to see where the Senate was going to go on health care, but Pelosi undoubtedly thinks the situation in the Senate will be pretty clear once the Finance Committee pounds through all those amendments this week.

Snowe may have more wiggle room too. Not long ago she admitted that the insurers have too much power, and the “compromises” currently on the table don’t address that adequately.

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