That Was A Big Waste Of Time

With debate officially beginning at 3 pm today in the Senate, Ezra Klein makes a good point about the relatively static state in which health care reform has been:
If you had tuned in six months ago for 10 minutes, you would have had all the information necessary to predict exactly where we'd be today. Democrats commanded exactly 60 votes, which meant that they had enough potential supporters to overcome a filibuster, but that each individual senator had sufficient leverage to extract enormous concessions in the final days. You would have known that the most controversial issues were the public option and the total cost of the bill, and both of those would be targeted by conservative Democrats like Nelson, Landrieu, and Lincoln. You would have known that liberals would be furious if any concessions were made on these issues, and would organize aggressively to protect their priorities.

I think Klein's one mistake is not so much that you could have predicted six months ago where we would be today, but that we are basically in the same situation we were in after Wasting those six months. The basic structure of the health care reform plan has remained essentially unchanged for months, and so have the political dynamics. All the debating, shouting, protesting, concessions, and posturing has changed basically nothing. All that effort to try to win "bipartisan support" or craft some magical, 60 vote, perfect public option compromise went nowhere. The progressive bases has been fairly successful in rallying to prevent the public option from being dropped (or crippled), and stopping the bill from getting worse. They have kept the left flank from folding as expected, but equally, the same handful of Conservatives Democrats remains unbending. The stalemate remains.

The potential sticking points months ago (overall price tag, abortion, taxes, public option, affordability, etc.), are still the same unresolved sticking points. On almost none of these issues has a final decision been reached. Politically, the overall bill remains slightly unpopular, while many individual elements, like banning pre-existing conditions and the public option, still have strong majority support. The Democrats still need to pass something, or they will end up looking like fools.

The real dealmaking and horse trading in the Senate will happen in a relatively short span of time, over the next several weeks. The more I watch the Senate, the more they remind me of a college freshman. No matter how much time they are given to write a term paper, they seem to always put off the work until the day before the paper is due, and end doing a very poor job. And like a college freshman, they need firm deadlines. If you give them an extension, they will just end up wasting that time. as well.

Maybe it is time to stop treating the Senate like some great legislitive body, and start treating it like the terribly broken monstrosity it has become. Its love affair with its own unconstitutional, arcane rules and extremely abused "privileges" has made it a practically unworkable institution that threatens the long-term success of our nation. The Senate just spent almost half a year working on health care reform, and didn't accomplish anything that couldn't have been done in three weeks if they were a functioning legislative body.

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