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Tilting at Windmills

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August 20, 2009

'BIPARTISAN' GOALPOSTS ARE ON THE MOVE.... You might think that legislation with Democratic votes and Republican votes is "bipartisan." Throw in some independents, and we might even have "tripartisan."

But when it comes to health care reform, the bar is apparently on the move. It started about a month ago when Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he thinks reform ought to get 80 votes in the Senate.

Apparently, this is starting to catch on.

Speaking on Fox News last night, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) claimed that health care reform should not happen because it doesn't enjoy "bipartisan" support, adding that a bill cannot be bipartisan unless it garners "somewhere between 75 and 80 votes." [...]

Hatch is hardly the only conservative senator to float a 75-80 vote supermajority requirement for health reform. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who is currently blocking attempts to fix the health care system, told the Washington Post that "[w]e ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes." Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) demanded "a bill that 75 or 80 senators can support."

There are a few angles to keep in mind here. First, it's fascinating to hear partisan Republicans suggest it's incumbent on Democrats to aim for 80-vote majorities on major pieces of legislation. Funny, Hatch, Grassley, and Enzi didn't feel this way when they were in charge.

Second, I can't help but wonder if Hatch, Grassley, and Enzi, among others, believe that when push comes to shove, and reform heads to the House and Senate floors, a few Republicans -- Snowe in the Senate, Coh in the House -- will break ranks and vote with Democrats. This sounds like pre-emptive spin: "It was a bipartisan majority, but it wasn't really a bipartisan majority based on our standards, so this doesn't count."

And third, aiming for 75 or 80 votes is obviously ridiculous. Republicans don't support health care reform. They never have. Grassley says he's likely to vote against his own compromise; Kyl says the party won't accept a bill no matter how many concessions Dems make; Voinovich says half the GOP caucus opposes reform for purely partisan reasons; Inhofe says Republicans have to look at reform while keeping the 2010 midterms in mind; and DeMint wants to make reform the president's "Waterloo," so he can "break" Obama.

I don't blame Republicans for trying to move the goalposts here, but where, pray tell, are Dems supposed to find these other 20 votes in a Republican caucus with two relative moderates?

Steve Benen 2:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Might as well make the total necessary for true bipartisanship be 168 Senate votes. Since we're talking fantasy and all.

Posted by: DrToons on August 20, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

hatch, grassley...best thing since howdy-doody and clara bell

Posted by: neill on August 20, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, by "Coh" do you mean "Cao"?

OfA conference call just began here:


Posted by: lotus on August 20, 2009 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

For the sake of ultra-super-trans-bipartisanship Obama can always resurrect Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond to get their votes. He must.

Posted by: gregor on August 20, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

kinna OT already, but..

We hear alot about how health insurance is too expensive and getting more so, fast, but what never seems to get mentioned is health CARE costs.

Does not this seem to be the root of the problem?
Has anyone tried to figure out why health care cost are rising so dramatically? Is the whole health care industry just raising cost because they can? If not why is it? And what can be done.

How anout a cogressional investigation?

I mean, if you don't understand the problem, how can you fix it?

This seems to be the elephant...

Posted by: agave on August 20, 2009 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's fairly obvious that the seventy-five votes they're talking about are all the Republican Senators, along with enough Democrats to give them 51 votes; based upon the theory that Republican votes are worth more than Democratic votes. If that was good enough during the Bush years, it should certainly be good enough with Obama.

So with Lieberman and a few others on board, it looks like we should have a truly bipartisan reform bill that properly removes government oversight from insurers, as well as reforming tort laws, so the healthcare industry can finally work as Adam Smith intended it to.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on August 20, 2009 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

nice little pep rally...
waitin fer substance...
i'm all hopey that barack'll bring it...

Posted by: neill on August 20, 2009 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

isnt this like Dems suggesting that they should pass it with 25 votes?

Posted by: glutz78 on August 20, 2009 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Seeing as how apparently anybody at any time can "move the goalposts" on what is "bipartisanship" to suit their agenda, I'm going to pitch in and move them again:

A "bipartisan" solution is any solution that I would support.

I support single payer for everyone - except Republicans. They get Death Panels.

Looking forward to implementation of the bipartisan solution, I am sincerely yours, etc.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on August 20, 2009 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

f*** it, let's just say it has to be unanimous.

Posted by: kth on August 20, 2009 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Agave - Reducing healthcare costs is definitely something Obama has been talking about repeatedly. For example, he's agreed to a Senate proposal of using MedPAC to look into this and reduce unnecessary tests and other waste in the system. Some conservatives have suggested that THIS is the "Death Panel" Palin warned us about, even though MedPAC was created by Republicans in the 90's and it wouldn't decide whether you get healthcare on a person-by-person basis. A search on Obama MedPAC will tell you more.

And that's just one example of Obama's push to cut healthcare costs. And every time he mentions cutting costs, conservatives insist that he's talking about rationing, euthanasia, and killing grandmas. That's where it all comes from. And just so it's clear, one big drain on our system are the huge profits the insurers are making; which we're all financing. And so a public option will directly cut into those profits, as they'll no longer have free reign to gouge us once they face real competition.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on August 20, 2009 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

It's generous that they stop at 80; after all, if we're all not behind it 110%, it shouldn't happen.

Posted by: qwerty on August 20, 2009 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Obama: "health insurance reform"

Posted by: neill on August 20, 2009 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

I am listening to Obama now. It is all about his great accomplishments. He seems to think he has been one "Heckuva Job Barackie" kind of president. He expressed support for a public option, but "having said that, I want everyone to be clear that the public option is just one option, it is voluntary.... Now, there are a whole lot of other aspects to health insurance reform...." Only time will tell whether or not Obama is fully behind the public option, because he certainly didn't say it was a vital aspect of reform. It seems to me, he is not as adamant about it as he once was. Keep the heat on him and on members of congress, because these guys, it seems to me, are searching for a way to ditch the public option.

Posted by: Ralph Kramden on August 20, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

"where, pray tell, are Dems supposed to find these other 20 votes in a Republican caucus with two relative moderates?"

The answer is nowhere! Even if they let us write the legislation, republicans are never going to vote to pass anything that The Chosen One could claim as a success.

What part of "we don't give a shit about the American worker" do you fail to understand? Our only goal is to create a situation where we can proudly proclaim that Obama has failed. This is a zero sum game and we republicans win by having The Chosen One fail.

We have stacked the deck and no matter what happens we (and our corporately owned media) will proclaim a failure on The Chosen One's part. We get to write the definitions and by definition, we win and Obama loses!

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on August 20, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

obama is actually doing an extremely fine job of being the not-clinton -- staying vague about the actual content of a bill he's sign rather than the amazingly comprehensive reform proposal clinton lost.

he tooted his horn about the accomplishments of the last several months -- stem cell, ledbetter, stimulus, no torture, et al. -- but sounded a little like a fluffed résumé...

still, he is sane, he is tending toward serious health care reform, and he explains the exact nature of what needs to be fixed... bravo!!!

but i'm left with the obvious question:
wtf we doin' with insurance companies AT ALL?

single payer is the answer, obviously, as the actual solution to obama's exceedingly detailed and clear denotation of the fiasco of health care in this country...

Posted by: neill on August 20, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Inane or lame?


They are arguing from weakness...
Just like bitching about the newly recast "nuclear option."

I am starting to think that Kleiman's brillant post gets where we are just right:

Once there's a bill, rather than a cacophony, Obama can use his persuasive powers and the OFA organization to mobilize around it, and (I think) largely reverse the public opinion hit that has resulted from all the crazy talk.
I think the strategy so far has been mostly rope-a-dope: making it obvious to everyone that there's no good-faith attempt on the Republican side to forge a compromise..
From the beginning, the notion that Baucus, Grassley, and Boehner were going to outsmart Obama, Axelrod, and Waxman never made any sense to me. As Damon Runyon once said, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But that's the way to bet."
My money's on Team Obama.

Holy shit batman...
If it is rope-a-dope they got me going too...

Posted by: koreyel on August 20, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

You don't say things like this when you're winning -- you say things like this when you're explaining why you lost by as much you lost by.

Grassley's throwing in the towel.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on August 20, 2009 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

I thought these guys were strict constructionists and "founder fetishists".

The founders didn't require 80, why should we?

Posted by: buggy ding dong on August 20, 2009 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK


I, too, have been wondering why our system is so much more expensive than everyone else's. Here are a couple of articles that I have found helpful:

Administrative Costs in Health Care: A Primer

The Health of Nations

The Health Care Crisis and What to Do About It

Posted by: Mark S. on August 20, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I get a kick out of these "clowns." I still remember how the "Bushies" had to keep the House vote going for hours, to twist enough Republican arms to pass the "Sweetheart" Medicare Part D Bill for Drug companies & insurance companies.
Why not wait another 60 years for REAL Health Care Reform, the Republicans are in NO hurry for change.
The Public option is more than a SLIVER to REAL reform.
Its overtime for the Obama "Advisors" to remember the "Middle America" that brought our President to the dance.
Talk is cheap. Health reform is a "CON JOB" without ending run away insurance premiums.

Posted by: ParityFanatic on August 20, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to reduce the cost of medical care, then eliminate the epidemics of deadly but entirely preventable disease (cancer, heart disease and stroke) caused by the "standard American diet" and its grotesquely unhealthy overabundance of meat and dairy products. Encourage and promote vegetarian diets. Eliminate the numerous and enormous subsidies to meat and dairy production. Impose heavy regulations and fines against the massive pollution and hideous cruelty of animal "factory farms".

Of course, the decades-long campaign of deceit and denial by the tobacco industry against anti-smoking measures, and the all-out, vicious warfare by the insurance corporations against single-payer/public option medical insurance, would pale into insignificance compared to what the meat and dairy industries would unleash against any such effort.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on August 20, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

hey secularanimist: there's "health care reform" and there's health care reform...

grocery stores with fresh wholesome foods are disappearing in poor neighborhoods, and the new drug store-convenience store is taking its place. they sell processed foods that ruins health quick, but the good news is that they sell the drugs for high blood pressure, etc. sort of a closed loop, or a big cash machine...

Posted by: neill on August 20, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

That at least 15 of 40 members of a party would support a measure isn't an unreasonable measure of the party's supporting that measure.

What's unreasonable, indeed absurd, is the notion that in a two-party system both parties must support a measure and if they don't, it shouldn't pass. Republicans of course don't for a moment subscribe to this nonsense; to the contrary they manifestly believe it's jim-danday to winn by the narrowest of margins on a party-line vote. Witness the alacrity with which Tom Delay overrode Democratic opposition.

Posted by: Pol on August 20, 2009 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Again, this is fairly typical of the Republicans - build expectations and shape the endgame so that if healthcare reform passes with an actual majority, Republicans can later claim it didn't really pass and this is another Dem trick, because the real threshold was 75 votes. This will introduce doubt (a la "President Obama was actually born in Kenya") and the true believers will refuse to accept the new healthcare regulations because they're "not really law".

The aim is to render the country so ungovernable that Obama will have to give up or apply such a heavy hand that he will be hated as a dictator. The funny thing is, Dems never do this to a Republican leader, although it would be easy because in some cases it's already half-true.

Posted by: Mark on August 20, 2009 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

What's unreasonable, indeed absurd, is the notion that in a two-party system both parties must support a measure and if they don't, it shouldn't pass.

It makes quite a lot of sense, however, if one's actual objective is to evolve toward a one-party system....

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on August 20, 2009 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

There just ain't enough rolleyes for these loons.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on August 20, 2009 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

Really, nothing short of 120 votes could really be considered bipartisan. Democrats should have to resurrect the bodies of old dead Republicans and get their votes, too, otherwise, how can we consider anything truly credible? We are too great a country to be ruled by a 51 vote minority. Without a serious effort at getting the vote of at least Strom Thurmond, it will be clear the Democrats don't believe in real bipartisanship.


Posted by: biggerbox on August 20, 2009 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

"... but where, pray tell, are Dems supposed to find these other 20 votes in a Republican caucus with two relative moderates"?

Who knows? But it won't stop Obama from trying, and trying, and trying... His middle name is not Hussein. It's Kumbaya.

Posted by: JW on August 20, 2009 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Some people seemingly can't count to seven and divide by two.

Hatch left the Gang on July 23rd. I have not seen any reporting that there were any dropouts before. If you start with a Gang of Seven and have one person leave resulting in a 'bi-partisan' Gang of Six evenly split between R's and D's what does that tell you about Baucus's original design?

The sequence goes like this:
1. HELP passes its bill out of Committee
2. Baucus declares HELP DOA and demands the right to write both parts of the Senate bill.
3. Baucus announces that the writing of the bill language has been delegated to a bi-partisan group. Nobody seems to notice that this group has a Republican majority and that Baucus has simply given veto power to the other Party.
4. Even with veto power the Republicans can't agree on a bill and deadlock ensues.

Baucus surrendered even before the fight started to be engaged and everything since has been a shadow play designed to hide what really happened. There are words for people who give the keys to the back gate to the enemy while pretending to put up a full show of force at the main gate. And if you are commander of the fort and watch your sub-commander do this in plain view you are complicit.

Majority Leader Reid watched Chairman Baucus hand the keys to health care to Ranking Enemy Grassley and did nothing. Now he is trying to duck the blame for the barbarians being inside the fort. Not so quick Harry.

Posted by: Bruce Webb on August 20, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

War resolutions should require unanimity, and I'm not kidding.

Posted by: stevenz on August 20, 2009 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

If this bill were only about tort reform you could get 80 votes. But you libs won't do that because you love your litigation so much.

I should know as I've been sued for medical malpractice 37 times.

Posted by: Myke K on August 20, 2009 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

One thing you have to admire about Republicans: they get their message from the powers-that-be and they go out to the media and deliver it. Consistently.

Sure, it's a goofy message, but they're delivering it well. Much better than the Democrats deliver their messages.

Posted by: TG Chicago on August 20, 2009 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Myke K,

Obama said he'd take (another round) of tort reform if it would get the Republicans to support any other aspects of reform.

They told him to take a hike.

We passed severe tort reform/med mal here in Texas. Suits have dropped, health care costs just keep going up.

As do med mal insurance rates.

Posted by: buggy ding dong on August 20, 2009 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK
I support single payer for everyone - except Republicans. They get Death Panels.

Looking forward to implementation of the bipartisan solution, I am sincerely yours, etc.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on August 20, 2009

Ha! LOL Great snarkiness!

I think there must be a number of Senate Republicans who now realize that much of the reform is something they actually do support and that they don't want to use the political strategy (of opposing it for partisan reasons) for that if they can devise a way to vote for it.

So, that gets us to the 2 bills idea.

If we were to get a couple of Repub votes on the public option portion and a ton of R votes on the other part (75-80 as they said), then we might rescue a little bipartisanship.

Probably the public option part has to be voted on and passed before Dems would let the other part be voted on as a separate piece. If the PO part were to be denied, then we would have to go back to our current proposal (all in one package) and pass it that way.

And, as I've said before, the Senate should go first on this deal and let the House watch.

Sign the deal in blood at midnight and spit chewing tobacco together...

et cetera et cetera et cetera.

Posted by: MarkH on August 20, 2009 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) demanded "a bill that 75 or 80 senators can support."

Oh, I get how this works.

people in need of medical care in WY demand an AYE from Sen. Mike Enzi.

Posted by: Kevin on August 20, 2009 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

You habe to admit Republicans are inventive.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on August 21, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

The idea seems to be that if they don't have fully HALF of all Republican Senators to back the final bill, it doesn't count. In what universe does anyone believe it is possible to have all the Dums on-board AND half of the opposition?

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