JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 3, 2010
Neera Tanden points out that Obama's health care bill tilts strongly toward moderates:
In short, as a moderate House Democrat said to me in December after she voted against the House bill, “I like where the Senate bill is going and I would vote for that.” Of course, that was before Massachusetts. But the Senate bill did not change. And neither should her intentions.
Now, most of these provisions that should appeal to Blue Dogs are a source of agitation for liberals. But liberals seem to have made the following calculation: In order to get a bill that covers 30 million Americans, with insurance reforms that protect consumers, they will swallow hard and accept several provisions that anger them.
Meanwhile, members of the Progressive Caucus are making angry noises:
"As I weigh it, I think -- for me -- a 'no' vote is something that I continue to lean toward," Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Salon in a brief interview off the House floor Wednesday. "Especially the last additions -- that was kind of a slap in the face for all of us who fought for the public option." ...
The vote counts are in flux, but Democrats need 216 votes to pass the bill. They got 220 last time. Kucinich told reporters Wednesday afternoon he's still voting "no," at least for now.
"I'm pretty certain there's more than just two this time," Grijalva said.
We're at a stage where everybody is going to maximize his own leverage. There's little incentive to commit to a yes vote, and every incentive to hold out for concessions. There is certainly a rationale to the public reticence of the Democrats' left wing -- it preserves bargaining leverage, and it helps position the bill toward the center.
But liberal opposition has also imposed significant costs. The enthusiasm gap and the significant chunks of opposition from the left have damaged the chances of any reform passing. Members of Congress don't break down the polls into who thinks reform goes too far and who thinks it doesn't go far enough -- they just care about who approves. Given what's at stake, the lack of liberal pressure for passage is simply astonishing. When you see things like Michael Arcuri (D-NY) threatening to switch his health care vote from yes to no, every Democratic activist in his district should be counter-threatening to support a primary challenger or general election protest vote unless he backs the final bill. Nothing like that is happening, because the most committed Democrats believe, absurdly, that the final bill has been compromised down to something that only barely improves the status quo.
All in all, the liberal strategy of focusing on the public option and constantly harping on the bill's shortcomings has won few identifiable concessions and has significantly increased the chance that no bill at all will pass.