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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Limits of Bi Partisanship

There's a new air in Washington and the president is attempting to usher in an era of bi partisanship.

Signaling he'd meet critics part way on health care, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he's willing to sign a bill even if it doesn't deliver everything he pursued through a year of grinding effort at risk of going down as a dismal failure.

The Democrats' massive health overhaul legislation is stalled in Congress by disagreements within the party and the loss last month of their 60th Senate vote, and with it, control of the agenda. Republicans suspect that Obama's invitation to a televised health care summit Feb. 25 is a thinly disguised political trap. On Tuesday, the president tried to change the dour dynamic, indicating he could settle for less in order to move ahead.

There is great debate about how much each side is serious about bracing each other and how much is for political show. I am of the opinion that it doesn't much matter. If two sides come together, eventually there will be an agreement if the two sides are close enough.

The jobs bill is just such an issue. It's relatively small, under $100 billion. It's relatively uncontroversial. After all, everyone agrees that jobs are a priority and everyone wants to do something. So, the Democrats will give a little on tax cuts and the Republicans will agree on infrastructure spending.

On healthcare, however, there is a totally different dynamic. First, the Republicans don't necessarily see a need to pass a "compromise" health care proposal. Health care is the president's issue and passing anything would give him a win.

More than that, there are fundamental differences in philosophy on health care. The Republicans want to increase competition. The Democrats want to cover all Americans. That's not merely a difference in priorities but philosophy.

Republicans want to allow insurance to be sold across state lines. Meanwhile, liberals really want health insurance to go away as a private endeavor. There is no room for bi partisanship there. The president will continue to have the same problems he's always had on health care reform. Any compromise will lose more votes than it gains. The only chance to pass comprehensive reform is to partner up the Blue Dogs and other moderates with the Republicans. The moderate to conservative philosophy is the one that is dominant in the legislature.

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