If Only We Had A Serious Opposition Party

Jonathan Chait explains how the Republicans have committed a real blunder on health care reform:

The United States is on the doorstep of comprehensive health care reform. It’s a staggering achievement, about which I’ll have more to say later. but the under-appreciated thing that strikes me at the moment is that it never would have happened if the Republican Party had played its cards right.

At the outset of this debate, moderate Democrats were desperate for a bipartisan bill. They were willing to do almost anything to get it, including negotiate fruitlessly for months on end. We can’t know for sure, but Democrats appeared willing to make enormous substantive concessions to win the assent of even a few Republicans. A few GOP defectors could have lured a chunk of Democrats to sign something far more limited than what President Obama is going to sign. And remember, it would have taken only one Democrat to agree to partial reform in order to kill comprehensive reform. I can easily imagine a scenario where Ben Nelson refused to vote for anything larger than, say, a $400 billion bill that Chuck Grassley and a couple other Republicans were offering.

But Republicans wouldn’t make that deal. The GOP leadership put immense pressure on all its members to withhold consent from any health care bill. The strategy had some logic to it: If all 40 Republicans voted no, then Democrats would need 60 votes to succeed, a monumentally difficult task. And if they did succeed, the bill would be seen as partisan and therefore too liberal, too big government. The spasm of anti-government activism over the summer helped lock the GOP into this strategy — no Republican could afford to risk the wrath of Tea Partiers convinced that any reform signed by Obama equaled socialism and death panels.

The same logic is true of many issues besides health care. For example, If Republicans were smart they would offer their own ideas about dealing with climate change as opposed to denying the science. Instead of providing any ideas, they have decided to simply vote against taking action on virtually everything.

I don’t go along with the Democrats on everything and I do wish we had a real opposition party. A serious opposition could provide meaningful meaningful checks and balances on the power of government. That would mean an opposition party which presented other ideas–not one which votes no on anything and which claims that anything done by government is bad (unless it involves invading other countries or torture)

The passage of this bill does show that we have moved beyond Reaganism. Matthew Yglesias writes, “Among other things, it represents a return, after fifteen years, of the idea that congress should be trying to pass major legislation that tackles major national problems. And even beyond that, it restores an even longer-lost tradition of congress trying to pass major legislation on specifically progressive priorities.” Paul Krugman sees this as an historic advance as, “it represents a rejection of the view that the solution for all problems is to cut some taxes and remove some regulations.”

Big government solutions are not always the best answer–which is one reason why we need a sensible opposition party. However there are some problems, such as health care, which the free market cannot handle without at least a large amount of government regulation. The Republicans cannot be taken seriously when they refuse to participate responsibly in the process when there is need for the government to act.

Update: Ross Douthat disagrees with Chait, and Jonathan Chait responds.

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  1. 1
    Pastor Kevin Essett says:

    » If Only We Had A Serious Opposition Party Liberal Values: Some individual s in these overlappin g political& #82… http://bit.ly/7uq3pO

  2. 2
    Mick Hunt says:

    » If Only We Had A Serious Opposition Party Liberal Values http://bit.ly/7uq3pO

  3. 3
    Brett Robinson says:

    "#GOP cannot be taken seriously when they refuse to participate responsibly in the process." http://liberalvaluesblog.com/?p=11596 #hcr #p2

  4. 4
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    Yeah, some of those founding fathers sure had it wrong when they thought that government was a necessary force to protect sovereignty and people’s rights and not in the business of correcting social ills.  Like George Washington who said:
    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. ”

    Since then we have the wisdom of Marx and Mao to teach us the government can fix problems like indigents “inefficiently” getting free care by clogging Emergency rooms. We need more government agencies to create more efficency, nothing in the private sector can match government efficency……Ok, all sarcasm aside, I honestly hope that whatever passes, does some good, if it helps at all and doesn’t end up a disaster, then hurray! All credit should go to the democrats for it, if it makes things significantly worse, then hopefully we’ll learn to continuously fight government’s nature of being dangerous and a fearful master.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:


    There is nothing in the beliefs of the Founding Fathers which would be contrary to necessary government involvement in health care. They did not share the beliefs of today’s right wing. Government is dangerous when abused–but it has far more often been the right wing which has abused this power.

    Clogging of Emergency Rooms is one of the problems which is attempted to be corrected with this measure–and ER care is certainly not free.

    As for efficiency, in health care there really isn’t any question that government has proved a better track record at both efficiency and in being less restrictive than the private sector. This has nothing to do with Marx or Mao. There are occasional functions which the government must get involved with because the private sector is not able to handle them, at least without considerable regulation, including health care coverage.

    Why are you so fearful of government being a dangerous and fearful master when it has been government which has done far better than the private sector in avoiding restrictions on the choices of patients and doctors?

  6. 6
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    To answer why I’m so fearful of government is because of what I believe the nature of government is. It naturally expands, increases its power rather than decreases, and ultimately, from the Egyptian Pharohs to Pol Pot, it tends to abuse and/or enslave.   Government is necessary, I wouldn’t want to live in anarchy, (Credit to Electic Radical for explaining to me that anarcy is always just a temporary state, we people always end up with some form of government) but I want government limited to absolute essentials and nothing more, of the things that government should run, I’m actually not to worried if they are all that efficent.  I want a militairy that can crush an enemy, even if that militairy doesn’t get the best price on the hammers they buy.  I want a judicial system that is better at getting right answers than the speed at which they produce answers.  As for right wingers abusing power, I consider myself a right winger in many ways, but I agree with you, we right wingers have abused power just as much or more than the left.  Don’t let us conservatives have more power either, keep government limited, stop expansion, and don’t spend what you don’t bring in. 

  7. 7
    Ron Chusid says:


    You missed the actual question with regards to health care. There is no question that government must be restrained, but you are dealing in generalities. In the case of health care, it has private insurance which has acted to restrict choice and infringe upon the doctor-patient relationship while government has adopted a far more hands off approach to health care.

    As for not spending what you don’t bring in, the plan reduces the deficit and is more fiscally sound than the status quo. This is a great litmus test as to whether conservatives really support fiscal responsibility. Under Bush, Republican had a policy of spend now, pay later. Republicans, along with conservative Democrats, passed Bush’s Medicare plan, which was essentially a scam to reward the insurance and pharmaceutical companies for their support without any means to pay for it. Now there is a plan which reduces the deficit but it is Republicans and conservative Democrats who have fought it.

  8. 8
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    I admit I was speaking in just generalities, the problem with being more specific is, as of Friday, the “entire” Senate bill had yet to be released, after Sunday’s vote, I’m assuming the entire bill is now out there. Not that I’d likely ever budget the time to read and understand all 2000 pages,  I just have to rely on my noise machine to highlight the bad in it, and sources like your sight to highlight the good.   Right wing radio is reporting no less than 70 new agencies to be created with the senate bill.  Is this a lie?  I know they(radio) distort info, but I haven’t heard any rebuttal as of yet on that point.   Just doesn’t sound that efficient to me, sounds like expansion.  If I recall past posts, you aren’t hot about penalties for people not buying insurance either, but I’m definately against that, sounds like a very mild form of enslavement.  Providing care for, what ever number more people, be it 20 million or 70 million, who either choose not to buy or can’t afford it sounds very Marx like to me.  By the way, rather than use my “talking point info” what do you have as an estimate of how many people this bill will provide health care for that don’t already it?  And then there is the pre-existing conditions, putting aside my poor analogies or ones from other sources, how does one save money if you let people in the system that already have conditions that cost more than what their payments are?  That sounds like a classical political lie of promising more than what can be delivered.  I’d be thrilled to be wrong,  the liberals have the votes, I’m against it, but hey, try it your way liberals, let see how it works.  (I say “your” generically too, I know you Ron, you are an Independant).  Is that specific enough to have addressed your question or am I still generalizing too much?

  9. 9
    Ron Chusid says:

    “I’m assuming the entire bill is now out there.”

    No, the system is incredibly complicated. The real bill that matters is what comes out of reconciliation with the far superior House bill.

    I have not heard the one about seventy new agencies. I suspect that this is something they made up but I can’t say for sure. Regardless the real problem comes down to counting agencies as opposed to looking at the big picture.

    It is simplistic to say that providing care to all is Marx. By the same logic, supplying roads for all to use and schools for all is Marxist. The market is unable to handle financing of health care without government involvement. The point is not to provide care for those that don’t want to but to make it available to those who do want to purchase insurance but are not able to under the current system.

    I have seen a number of estimates as to the number of additional insured but I would prefer to wait for the final bill to go with any numbers.

    There are a number of measures which save money to offset the additional cost of insuring those with pre-existing conditions–it is not that covering people with pre-existing conditions itself saves money. We start from the point of view that everyone should be able to obtain insurance coverage–including those who have medical problems and need coverage. The goal from there was to make it budget neutral with the CBO calculating that this does decrease the deficit.

    Unfortunately liberals don’t entirely have the votes since there are some conservative Democrats who had to be appeased in the Senate.

  10. 10
    Mike Hatcher b.t.r.m. says:

    Your comparison to public roads and health care struck a chord in me. Ok, that kind of sounds not too bad, I just drove home about an hour ago on a public road and was quite satisfied with it.  Of course then you mentioned schools, which seems to me like the opposite end of the spectrum, how badly government can run something, always need more money and produce a lousy product.  I was a certified teacher in another state and worked full time in both private and public schools.  I don’t really “know” what the problem is, but it just seemed to me that the private schools I worked in did far better than public schools with sometimes less than half the money per student.  But my main purpose of this post is give you credit for saying something that clicked in this b.t.r.m (brainwashed on talk radio man)’s  head. 

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