Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 23, 2009

GRASSLEY EYES ANOTHER BIPARTISAN GROUP.... The bipartisan Gang of Six was a rather spectacular failure, thanks almost entirely to the antics of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa. Today, however, the conservative senator told some home-state reporters that he's beginning to work on another bipartisan group that could host inter-party negotiations.

"I've had discussions with senators that aren't on the committee that could possibly work with us to try to get back into a bipartisan mold," Grassley said. "I think, though, that it'd be very helpful for people who aren't on the Finance committee or even the HELP committee...would kind of take the bull by the horns themselves and try to coalesce around something that could eventually become more bipartisan."

In order for this new effort at a "bipartisan" compromise to work, Grassley said, members of the Senate Democratic caucus would have to tell Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that they would support a Republican filibuster of a Democratic reform bill.

You don't say.

There are two relevant angles here. The first is why anyone in the Senate would be prepared to negotiate in good faith with Chuck Grassley at this point. Max Baucus bent over backwards to give Grassley an insurance-industry-friendly bill, filled with concessions and ideas that Grassley had already embraced, but he still walked away. Worse, he refused to take a serious, honorable approach to the talks as they dragged on for months.

The second is why Grassley would even bother. He obviously doesn't support health care reform, and has made a series of efforts to kill it. Why go through the motions again, immediately after spiking the Gang of Six talks?

Perhaps because Grassley realizes his conduct recently has hurt him at home. Nate Silver had an item yesterday noting the 18-point drop in the senator's approval rating in Iowa since the start of the year. The decline has come from Democrats and Independents, who apparently haven't been impressed with Grassley's antics of late.

Grassley is probably a safe bet for re-election anyway, but he's up next year in a state that's been trending "bluer" in recent years. Acting like a partisan GOP hack and undermining reform efforts isn't helping him back home, so he has to keep up appearances and pretend to be committed to a "bipartisan" negotiation process.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (16)

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Here is another thought - maybe this is just Grassley's attempt to continue shaking the money tree for contributions from health care companies. Perhaps Grassley is contriving a way to make himself seem relevant ... by posing together with his group as a potential blockade to any legislation. Brilliant shakedown!

Posted by: Bokonon on September 23, 2009 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

chuckie has got to be this year's winner of prima donna of the clown car senate hands down.

Posted by: neill on September 23, 2009 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Delay! Delay! Delay!
Kill! Kill! Kill!

Too bad the Dems never learned the "fool me once..." lesson. They'll just let this drag out until totally dead. What do they care -- they're rich and will never have to live in the real world.

Posted by: Go, Sestak! Or Hoeffel! on September 23, 2009 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Given Grassley's antics, I don't see any down side to making him a prime target for defeat next year. Is there a decent Dem opponent for him, or if not, is someone availabe who could be? I don't think he/she would have to spend a lot on media strategy - just do commercials with intercutting shots of all Grassley's contradictory statements, then end up with "Doesn't Iowa deserve a senator says what he means and means what he says?"

Posted by: dcsusie on September 23, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

How about another "thought experiment"?

Imagine you are a Republican -- I know, it's hard, but try. You are in favor of meaningful health care reform, but you know the party would kill you if you announced you supported anything the Democrats wanted.

What would you do?

I know what I would do: pretty much what Grassley is doing -- announce that you are against the current bill but was searching for a way around the committee.

Face it, the Baucus bill is horrible. What if Grassley turned around and supported it? OMG, we'd be stuck with this bill!

The Republicans are doing the entire country a favor by being against the Baucus bill. Now the Democrats need to get on board, as well.

Kill the Baucus bill, and pass meaningful health care reform that 1) covers everyone; 2) gives the insurance companies real competition (or puts them completely out of business -- we can dream, can't we?); 3) allows the new public option to negotiate drug costs; less important, but would be nice, 4) lowers the age people can go on Medicare (how about day one?); 5) covers all legal medical services (yes, including abortion); 6) covers Glenn Beck's tranquilizers.

Posted by: Joesbrain on September 23, 2009 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

I understood it was for the purpose of delaying the bill even longer. I just can't imagine a Democrat joining a Republican filibuster on health care and living to tell the tale.

Posted by: Christopher on September 23, 2009 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

You are in favor of meaningful health care reform, but you know the party would kill you if you announced you supported anything the Democrats wanted.

Hmmm. Interesting thesis, but not one backed by any facts whatsoever. First, if you really believe this, why pussyfoot around? Grassley's polls are tanking because he's losing his moderate support. He could say, without any ulterior motives, that he's bucking his party because health care reform is that important. He'd be an instant celebrity and star for doing something truly "bipartisan" or "nonpartisan". David Broder would have an erection for the first time since the first Nixon Administration. And if the knuckledraggers come after you, so what? You'll be reelected because, overall, Iowa votes liberal to moderate.

Second, if health care reform was, in fact, his goal, why start agreeing with the death panel nonsense? If you are going to be an adult about it, even in "faux" opposition, why get into that gutter?

Third, if Grassley is "feeling around" the committee for a better bill, he'd could simply join up with the Rockefeller faction who seems to believe in a far better and more comprehensive plan -- so why go through the kabuki pretense of bipartisan Gang of Six shit?

If he believes as you think he believes, he would lose nothing by supporting reform -- what would the Republicans do anyway? They're down to 40 as it is. And instead, he's been taking aim at his foot by spouting every halfassed criticism that comes to his head instead of keeping quiet and cultivating a better plan behind the scenes.

Most times, what you see is what you get.

Posted by: Jay B. on September 23, 2009 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps because Grassley realizes his conduct recently has hurt him at home."

I'd bet Silver is making the mistake pundits and political scientists often make: assuming voters or poll respondents have any idea of the salient issues. That 18 point drop might track along with similar drops among republicans (and those who changed their mind on Grassley might say it was due to his opposition on health care reform).

But I doubt it. The 18 point drop might also track along with similar drops among democrats too during the time frame. In which case, the *cause* might a generally expressed cynicism of politicians or pessimism about the economy, or, who knows.

Voters' political opinions are irritable mental gestures. Polls might give insight into upcoming voter behavior, but they don't tell you *why* - especially if you are anticipating some cohesive, consistent ideological principles. People, largely, can't form two meaningful sentences regarding health care reform. Iowa is somewhat better informed than the average, but slightly better than pig ignorant is still pretty ignorant.

Posted by: flubber on September 23, 2009 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

The funny thing is that Grassley doesn't understand why the White House and Max Bacus don't trust him anymore.

Senator without a clue.

Posted by: Lance on September 23, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

There is no such thing as a "blatant lie" or "unrepentant liar" in todays political discourse. Both terms have been declared as dead as Julius Caesar by the political power structure of Washington DC.

A long cultivated tradition, initially designed to help sustain a civil discourse between opposing factions, over time its utility to avoid real conflict of any sort took root. Gingrich avoided the terms in the check-list of pejoratives he insisted be flung by GOP House members at the democratic opposition. To this day, none in D.C. have stood to speak the simple and truthful words, "This nation was lied into unleashing war in 2003". Just few days ago, Joe Biden wrapped himself in the spirit of the deceased terms when he declared that republicans "aren't bad guys". Liars? Perish the thought. Today its being reported, "In a stunning moment during the Senate Finance Committee markup Sen. Tom Carper defended a secret deal that the White House, Baucus, and PhRMA had reached. The White House has long denied the deal. Carper publicly acknowledges that part of the deal was that PhRMA would run millions of dollars worth of campaign ads in support of health care reform". Did anyone involve actually lie? Noooooo, of course not. Move along, nothing to see...

For there are no liars in Washington DC. Just decent folks, unfamiliar with the very word "liar", doing their level best to avoid derailing anyones gravy train.

Posted by: JW on September 23, 2009 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Fuck Grassley. I am tired of this meaningless posturing.

Posted by: Anonymous on September 23, 2009 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Charles Grassley is like a spray of dog diarrhea from a dog dying of dog diarrhea.

Posted by: cld on September 23, 2009 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Jay B., I guess I was not clear: my "thought experiment" had nothing to do with Grassley. I don't believe Grassley is smart enough to even read the various bills out there, let alone have an intelligent thing to say about them.

My "thought experiment" was simply a way of showing that the Republican's position on the Baucus bill would not change even if they were serious about health care reform.

In fact, anyone who is in FAVOR of the Baucus bill (as far as I know, only Baucus is) is NOT serious about health care reform since the bill is simply a give-a-way to the insurance industry.

In other words, you can be in favor of health care reform, or against it, and still hate the Baucus bill. NO ONE likes the Baucus bill. So rubbing it in the faces of the Republicans is a waste of time.

Posted by: Joesbrain on September 23, 2009 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that the Wyden bill offers a very real compromise between progressive and conservative approaches.

Most of the reform involving insurance company practices, such as a ban on pre-existing condition exclusion, etc., have broad bipartisan support. This can be clearly defined and regulated through the market exchange that is created.

The ability for businesses of all sizes to purchase plans on the exchange has reasonable bipartisan support.

Opening up the exchange to individuals, and giving individuals vouchers if they don't like the coverage their employer is offering, is an increase in choice and competition and ought to be popular among conservatives. It could theoretically be considered a move toward a more laissez-faire type system with increased personal responsibility.

The establishment of a public option available to all if they so choose will perhaps remain unpopular among conservatives, but is an eminently reasonable and frankly generous concession for those who would favor a single-payer system. And dammit, we did win the election.

Best of all, I believe this plan is quite saleable to the public at large, both democrats and republicans, and reasonably simple to explain.

Posted by: Jason on September 23, 2009 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

They say Congress has a hard time working on more than one big thing at a time. I thought they could do a couple of things, but this year has made me a believer in the One Big Thing argument. That said, when so many in Congress churn their brains toward the same topic there are a lot of ideas that come out. I would expect that piecing together the best of all these would preclude JUST taking one senator's idea(s). But, that also means that any senator's idea(s) could become part of the final product. It's just a matter of whether it would fit productively and if there's sufficient support all around.

This is a good time for each senator who has ideas (as McCain, Widen and Rockefeller have for example) to shop them around and see if their ideas beat out others. How all this gets put together into a workable final product depends partly upon how independent each component is of the others. They would stand better in any final product if they aren't dependent upon one or more other components. For example, the public option operates entirely separate from the Medicaid subsidies or funding for federal health centers. That there is overlap in their usage doesn't make one dependent upon the other. A subsidy works as well for private insurers as the public option. A person insured with a public option or private insurance could use a federal health center with no difference.

Less dependence of the parts should make the overall final product more likely to succeed. But, where there is dependence or some tight connection it needs to work very very well.

Posted by: MarkH on September 23, 2009 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

"Perhaps because Grassley realizes his conduct recently has hurt him at home."


"In which case, the *cause* might a generally expressed cynicism of politicians or pessimism about the economy"

And hasnt Grassley's conduct contributed to cynicism of politicians and pessimism about the economy?

Posted by: jefft452 on September 24, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK
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