Why are Dems still negotiating on healthcare?

So far, it seems that concessions to Republicans and conservative Democrats haven't been much help

Published August 19, 2009 12:15AM (EDT)

For some time now, Democrats in the Obama administration and Congress have been negotiating healthcare reform with the more conservative members of their party, as well as the handful of Senate Republicans most likely to cross party lines. So far, it hasn't gotten them much more than a few blown deadlines.

People like Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., are unlikely to give up on negotiations, or the dream of a bipartisan bill, anytime soon. But with Baucus' negotiating partner, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, happily admitting that he's unlikely to vote for reform, no matter how many concessions to him are included in the legislation, there's a question that has to come up: Are negotiations worth it? Or, with Democrats firmly in control of both houses of Congress, can they write further concessions off as a lose-lose proposition?

At first glance, negotiations on this issue make sense. Everyone always wants to look bipartisan, and anyway, it helps in a situation like this to give some of the more vulnerable Democratic members of Congress political cover with Republican votes for the bill. Plus, every Republican senator successfully wooed means one fewer Democratic senator whose every whim needs to be catered to in the event of a filibuster.

But at this point, continued negotiation with the goal of getting a bill through the Senate means a risk of losing the vote in the House. Liberal House Democrats are already threatening to vote against reform legislation if it doesn't include a public option -- for now, the administration seems confident they can eventually be won over, but further concessions to conservatives will lengthen those odds.

Then there's the question of what has actually been gained by the moves towards bipartisanship that have been made thus far. It's not like the administration got any kudos from Republicans, or even hesitant Democrats like Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., when it's appeared to back away from the public option.

In fact, with many pundits now treating the public option as DOA, Republicans have begun targeting the co-op plan that Conrad's promoted as a compromise solution. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., told reporters, "That is the step towards government-run healthcare in the country ... It is a Trojan horse. And therefore no, I don't believe Republicans will be inclined to support a bill."

Kyl was, apparently, just following the party line. In a release titled "Reports of Public Option's Demise Greatly Exaggerated," the Republican National Committee itself said the co-op idea "is still government-run healthcare."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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