I didn't watch the Health Care Summit yesterday -- I had a pretty busy day at the church. So, I have to take my cues from the clips and reports that I've seen since. As one might expect, when it comes to nailing down what happened, it depend on who you check with. If you support the GOP position, then they did well. If you support the Democrats, they did well. If you like the President -- well he did a good job, etc.
There was a bit of the old campaign fire in the conversation as McCain tried to tangle with the President, who reminded his former foe that the election campaign is over. Both sides brought to the table their political agendas, and at times, apparently found some points of agreement. But no agreement was to be found.
The reality is that our political system has become so polarized, and the Republicans have gotten pretty good at using the filibuster in the Senate to put a stop to any Democratic Party efforts, that the government is at times grinding to a halt. A Time Magazine article out this week notes that the GOP has used the Filibuster against 80% of the legislation before the Senate since Obama became President. Much of this has to do with a collapse of any middle in our political system, especially in the Republican Party. As Andrew Bettles notes in this article:
All this, it turns out, was a mere warm-up for the Obama years. On the surface, it appeared that Obama took office in a stronger position than Clinton had, since Democrats boasted more seats in the Senate. But in their jubilation, Democrats forgot something crucial: vicious-circle politics thrives on polarization. As the GOP caucus in the Senate shrank, it also hardened. Early on, the White House managed to persuade three Republicans to break a filibuster of its stimulus plan. But one of those Republicans, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter — under assault for his vote and facing a right-wing primary challenge — switched parties. That meant that of the six Senate Republicans with the most moderate voting records in 2007, only two were still in the Senate, and in the party, by '09. The Wednesday lunch club had ceased to exist. And the fewer Republican moderates there were, the more dangerous it was for any of them to cut deals across the aisle.
Note that Scott Brown, who voted to forward the recent jobs bill is being branded a traitor by the Right. They thought he was one of them, but his background is fairly moderate. We'll see if he crosses the aisle again. As the article notes, the GOP learned in the Clinton era that they could win elections by running against government -- even if they control it!
The article notes that the modern filibuster doesn't require anyone to stand in the well and keep talking till the other side gives up -- all you need to do is say -- we've got enough votes to block that nothing can go forward.
I've read a number of reports and op-eds today, trying to get a sense of what was accomplished or not. The New York Times Op-Ed piece seems to catch the situation the best. The two sides are too far apart to hope for a bi-partisan bill. At the same time the GOP, with 41 votes won't allow a vote on a bill to come to a vote.
The Times editorial writer suggests that with the Republicans backing the status quo, the Democrats will have to go it alone. The President refused to tie his hands, the way the GOP wanted him to do, so if something is going to get done, it will likely be through reconciliation. It's not pretty in process, but to let it die (or scrap it) at this point would be as politically deadly as going forward. The Democrats were given a majority in Congress. Obama ran on a platform that included comprehensive health insurance reform. He's made a number of concessions to the Republicans, hoping to get votes. To go any further at this point would be to capitulate. Now, the GOP might see gains in the next election, but they'll likely see them anyway. So, as the Editorial says -- they should just go for it.