Man, I really hate to find myself nodding along to a David Brooks column. Sure, he’s a conservative columnist looking to score points off of a Democratic president and Congress, but that doesn’t make him wrong. At least not today:
….[L]eaders in Congress and in the administration seem open to nearly any idea so long as it will lead to passing legislation. On health care, the administration would like a strong public plan, but it is evidently open to a weak one. It is on record against taxing health benefits, but it is clearly willing to tax them. It will do what it takes to pass a bill.
[W]e have to distinguish between two types of pragmatism. There is legislative pragmatism — writing bills that can pass. Then there is policy pragmatism — creating programs that work. These two pragmatisms are in tension, and in their current frame of mind, Democrats often put the former before the latter.
Brooks has nailed it with uncharacteristic accuracy. Obama and the Democrats don’t define victory as achieving concrete objectives or positive change; they define it as merely passing legislation, no matter how half-assed and crappy it might be.
What is particularly distressing is that the minute Republicans or conservative Democrats object to one of Obama’s policy initiatives, Obama and the Democratic leadership immediately start caving and compromising instead of arm-twisting. On issues as important as global warming and healthcare, Obama, Rahm, Pelosi, and Reid should deploy a full-court press on the Blue Dogs and moderate Republicans. Instead they reserve their hardball tactics for progressives who don’t want to vote for bills written by Blue Dogs and lobbyists.
If the Democrats just flat out can’t pass a good bill, then so be it. Use the Republicans’ obstructionism against them in the next election, and hang the worst of the Blue Dogs out to dry. That’s better than taking ownership of a bad bill that doesn’t work and everyone hates.
Unfortunately, that ship has already sailed for the stimulus bill and the climate bill, but it’s not too late for healthcare reform, where Harry Reid is fast running out of excuses. As Bernie Sanders says, Harry should kick bipartisanship to the curb and insist that all sixty members of his caucus vote for cloture, even if they’re unwilling to vote for the bill itself. It would also be helpful if Obama would take a firm stand and publicly declare that he will veto any healthcare bill that doesn’t include a strong public option – his unwillingness to do so is puzzling and more than a little ominous.
But if Obama and the Democrats really have their hearts set on racking up legislative victories, then I suggest that they write up a series of "reform" bills that do nothing more than enshrine the status quo. I’m pretty sure most of them would pass easily, although a few might need adjustments to make them more business-friendly.