If Only Rahm Had Tried Jim DeMint

by Jonathan Chait | February 9, 2010

I've been critical of Rahm Emanuel recently. But this line of attack seems a little unpersuasive:

Democrats in Congress are holding White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel accountable for his part in the collapse of healthcare reform. ...

The lawmaker said Emanuel misjudged the Senate by focusing on only a few Republicans, citing Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins as too narrow a pool.

“In the Senate, you have to anchor in the middle and build out," said the lawmaker.

“They just wanted to win," the source said of Emanuel and other White House strategists. "Their plan was to keep all the Democrats together and work like hell to get Snowe and Collins. The Senate doesn't work that way. You need a radius of 10 to 12 from the other side if you're going to have a shot."

That's what they tried! The White House let Max Baucus spend months trying to woo Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch, and Mike Enzi, in addition to Snowe and Collins. All signaled very strongly that they would not cooperate with any significant reform. In the end, Snowe voted for the Senate Finance Committee bill, then backed away, eventually voting to declare the individual mandate (a cornerstone of the bill she voted for) unconstitutional.

If there's one thing that's clear in retrospect about the health care negotiations, it's that pressure from the GOP leadership and base made any Republican participation in health care reform impossible. Anything that Obama supported was going to be seen as socialism. The Senate bill ended up more conservative than the bipartisan Dole-Baker-Daschle proposal. It's like Romneycare, the plan that enjoys the continued support of Scott Brown, but with delivery reforms to control costs. And they see it  as socialism. It's astonishing to me that there are Democrats who think the answer to this problem would be to try to enlist the support of Republicans even more conservative than the ones who spurned them.

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