JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 28, 2011
In the middle of a generally persuasive column about Mitch McConnell, Ezra Klein makes a point I disagree with:
Withholding minority-party votes forces the majority party to hand its most moderate members — and the most moderate members of the other party — an effective veto, which drags the legislation substantively to the center, and in the current situation, to the right.
Health-care reform was more conservative than it would have been if more Republicans had been willing to support it.
I actually think McConnell's tactic of blanket opposition caused health care reform to be more liberal. McConnell successfully persuaded his entire caucus not to negotiate, and moderate Democrats, who were desperate for bipartisan cover, spent months fruitlessly pursuing bipartisanship anyway. After the Massachusetts special election, huge swaths of the Democratic caucus were ready to take half a loaf, or perhaps just a slice. Republicans wouldn't offer even a token gesture like expanded coverage for children. McConnell kept jacking up the stakes and making it an all-or-nothing choice.
Politically, that choice worked very well. The health care legislative process dragged out for a year and its public image drowned in a procedural morass. The GOP gained a lot of eats in the midterms. McConnell could have taken a much smaller substantive defeat by cutting a deal with Democratic moderates, at the cost of minimizing his political gain. He chose otherwise.