Negotiations on health care reform are starting to remind me of a scene from one of my favorite movies.
In Paddy Chayevsky’s brilliant satire Network, The Howard Beale Show was negotiating with a group of radical left domestic terrorists called the “Ecumenical Liberation Army.” The network was trying to come to an agreement with the ELA to base a television show on their violent exploits and was discussing such arcane TV minutia as distribution charges, syndication, and subsidiary rights:
Laureen Hobbs: Don’t f**k with my distribution costs! I’m making a lousy two-fifteen per segment and I’m already deficiting twenty-five grand a week with Metro! I’m paying William Morris ten percent off the top, and I’m giving this turkey ten thou per segment, and another five to this fruitcake! And Helen, don’t start no s**t about a piece again! I’m paying Metro twenty-thousand for all foreign and Canadian distribution, and that’s after recoupment! The Communist Party’s not gonna see a nickel of this goddamn show until we go into syndication!
Helen Miggs: C’mon Laureen. The party’s in for seventy-five hundred a week of the production expenses.
Laureen Hobbs: I’m not giving this pseudoinsurrectionary sedentarian a piece of my show! I’m not giving him script approval, and I sure as s**t ain’t gotten him into my distribution charges!
Mary Ann Gifford: [screaming] You f**king fascist! Did you see the film we made of the San Marino jail breakout, demonstrating the rising up of the seminal prisoner class infrastructure?
Laureen Hobbs: You can blow the seminal prisoner class infrastructure out your ass! I’m not knockin’ down my goddamn distribution charges!
Great Ahmed Kahn: [fires off his gun through the ceiling] Man, give her the
F**KING overhead clause. Let’s get back to page twenty-two, number 5, small ‘a’. Subsidiary rights.
Now that’s what I call negotiations. It’s a pity nobody has the guts to fire a gunshot through the ceiling and get everyone’s attention. The cacophony of unintelligible noises on health care reform flying across the media landscape is making it impossible to follow what’s going on, much less understand what anyone else is trying to say.
From what I can gather, it appears that the Democrats may be on the verge of taking their ball and going home to mother — or Obama, as the case may be. This piece in the New York Times breathlessly announced that the majority party is sick and tired of trying to get the GOP to abandon their first principles and bargain away their souls. The Democrats will now seek to pass reform legislation without the minority.
Steve Benen looks upon this news as progress:
By all appearances, Democrats have gone above and beyond in trying to secure at least some Republican support for health care reform. GOP leaders have gotten a lot of face time at the White House. Dems have signaled a willingness to make all kinds of concessions. When Republicans insisted the majority slow down, the process slowed to a crawl. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in late July, “Working with the Republicans, one of the things that they asked for was to have more time. I don’t think it’s unreasonable.”
This week, however, we seem to have reached the tipping point. A variety of GOP leaders explained that Dems could drop the public option altogether, and it wouldn’t make any difference. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who’s become increasingly belligerent about the very idea of reform, said he’s prepared to vote against his own compromise bill. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) announced that Republicans will reject reform no matter what’s in the bill.
Ooh. “Face time at the White House.” Man, that Obama is a great compromiser. Benen might not know it, but I doubt whether too many Republicans are standing in line these days to get “face time at the White House.” And “signal[ing] a willingness to make all kinds of concessions” is not quite the same thing as making those concessions, is it? In fact, one would be hard-pressed — I mean you’d really have to put your thinking cap on and set a bit — to figure out exactly what “concessions” the Democrats have made to the GOP at all.
In short, the idea that the Democrats have attempted any sort of bipartisan negotiations — or negotiations with the GOP of any kind — is crap. And complaining that Republicans refuse to negotiate on what the Democrats’ idea of reforming health care is something akin to complaining about the condemned man refusing his last meal. Not being able to fathom that the prisoner does not see it your way — that you are doing him a big favor — is the major problem with Democrats who grumble about GOP obstinacy regarding health care reform.
Suppose General Motors had gone into its last negotiations with the UAW and handed them a contract that cut their pay and benefits in half. Before the enraged unionists could get control of themselves to come up with a rational response, the corporate negotiators would arrogantly inform their union counterparts that the cuts were non-negotiable, but they’d be glad to talk about putting an extra soda machine in the break room and add chocolate cake to the lunch menu twice a week.
Democrats informed the GOP that health care reform would include a public option and other “no go” provisions that are an anathema to the founding principles of the party and conservatism. And the Democrats expected … what? That the GOP would embrace that reform, betray its principles, and shatter the party just to give Democrats cover with the voting public who will probably not like this “stealth single-payer” idea?
This blindness was also evident when the Democrats complained that Republicans refused to support the $800 billion stimulus bill. Again, Democrats accused the GOP of not wanting to negotiate after festooning the bill with tens of billions of dollars in goodies for Democratic special interests. As with health care reform, most Republicans were not against the general idea of a stimulus, but when so much of what was in the stimulus bill and health care reform were off the table, or simply unacceptable to the GOP, negotiating just so that Democratic politicians wouldn’t own the entire boondoggle did not sit well with the opposition.
Are there tactical considerations in opposition by the GOP as well? As these are political matters, of course there are. No one is saying that Republicans were standing on principle alone. But it is a mystery why Democrats can’t see that voting for a bill with a public option (or it’s weak sister, health care insurance co-ops) would doom the Republicans with most of the rest of their party and enrage their base. Of course, they wouldn’t see that as quite the calamity the objects of their scorn would view the matter. But the hypocrisy is getting pretty thick when the Democrats bitch about the GOP refusing, in effect, to walk the plank because they can’t swim.
Another mystery is why the Republicans aren’t pushing elements of their own comprehensive plan. Introduced in Congress on May 20, H.R.2520 (The Patients’ Choice Act), the 248-page reform package, offers solutions to most of the problems the Democrats wish to address and has the added benefit of not costing at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade to accomplish the task.
Perhaps the Republicans don’t want to disturb the Democrats as they rend each other into bloody pulps over their own proposals. But the existence of this bill pretty much destroys the narrative that begins with the idea that the Republicans have nothing to add to the health care reform debate. The problem is that there are more white whales in the ocean than Republicans in Congress, and whatever they say matters not a bit to their Democratic overlords.
And this brings up a final point: given that the Democrats have huge majorities in the House and Senate, and given that they control the presidency and the executive branch as well as most major media organs in the country, why is it the fault of Republicans that they can’t get a health care reform bill written, much less voted out? Why this touching concern about bipartisanship when they regularly trash the party for being in the pocket of insurers, for astroturfing violent, fascist mobs to protest at town hall meetings, and for being un-American racists who believe Obama is not of this earth and was born on the planet Kenya?
That’s politics, of course. The Democrats can, and probably will, railroad something through Congress without any meaningful input from Republicans. They have the power and the numbers.
But perhaps they could do so without whining about how the GOP is somehow thwarting their plans by not signing up for a one-way trip to political oblivion. Negotiating one’s own demise is not smart politics — even for a party that insists on demonstrating a willingness to shoot itself in the foot at every possible opportunity.