Peter Beinart Says It All: Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Bush Clinton

Peter Beinart has an article on A Unified Theory of Hillary in today’s issue of National Journal.The entire article is worth reading but one line really sums up the article and my overall opinion of Hillary Clinton: “Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.” He also pointed out how her tunnel vision “might produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush.”

Beinart does have also have some praise for Hillary Clinton as being tough-minded, and does feel she might have a better chance of dealing with Congress than other recent Democratic presidents. Looking back to the  years when Bill was in the White House, and even earlier, he had this to say:

From their days in Arkansas, Hillary took the lead in combating the scandalmongers who threatened Bill’s career. Her default position was single-minded and relentless. She repeatedly urged her husband’s advisers to meet attacks on Bill’s character by going after the character of his opponents. (According to Bernstein, in 1992 she urged the campaign to fan rumors about George H.W. Bush’s infidelity.) It was Hillary who called in Dick Morris when Bill was losing his bid for reelection as governor in 1980, and who became Morris’s point of contact when the Clintons entered the White House. According to Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr.’s biography Her Way, when a liberal Arkansas staffer objected to Morris’s presence, Hillary responded, “If you want to be in this kind of business, this is the kind of person you have to deal with.”

Tough-minded, but also showing the lack of principle she is known for.

Clinton has a history of making big mistakes on the big issues, such as her handling of health care reform:

Hillary’s failure to see that her model, which she had developed in Arkansas, was not working and needed to be altered midstream. As in Arkansas, Hillary—now aided by Magaziner—kept tight control of the process. At task force meetings, Bernstein notes, participants were forbidden from copying draft documents or, in many cases, even taking notes. The secrecy alienated not only members of Congress, health care activists, and the press, but key figures in the Clinton administration as well. Hillary and Magaziner both knew a great deal about health care policy. But neither knew as much about health care politics as Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, or Office of Management and Budget Director Leon Panetta. Yet because of the task force’s secrecy, and because they feared directly confronting the president’s wife, Bentsen, Panetta, Shalala, and others in the administration often felt marginalized. As Haynes Johnson and David Broder document in The System—their indispensable book on the health care battle—Clinton officials angered by their lack of influence repeatedly leaked damaging information to a press corps angered by its lack of access.

Her biggest mistake was in getting her husband to agree to promise to veto anything other than what Hillary wanted, despite the fact that the Republican counter-proposal was extremely similar to the Affordable Care Act passed under Barack Obama, and would have served as a point to negotiate from at the time rather than having to wait until just recently to achieve health care reform. Some Clinton staffers recommended considering more modest proposals from moderate Democrats when it became clear that her entire package could not pass in Congress.

But Hillary resisted switching course, and she and Magaziner won the day. In his State of the Union address the following January—at Hillary’s urging and over Gergen’s opposition—Bill pledged to veto any health care bill that did not provide universal health coverage, even though key figures in his own party already believed that was the only kind of health care bill Congress would pass.

Hillary proceeded to move to the right to counter the false impression spread by the right that she was a left-wing radical.

IF HILLARY’S FAILURE to improvise contributed to the demise of health care reform, it also contributed to her greatest foreign policy blunder—her support for the Iraq War—and her subsequent loss to Barack Obama in 2008.

As with health care reform, Hillary’s transition from first lady to elected official relied on a clear plan, a key component of which was: Disprove the caricature of herself as a left-wing radical (an effort made easier by the fact that the caricature had never been remotely true). In her New York Senate race, Tomasky notes, Hillary ran to Rudy Giuliani’s right on abortion: She supported parental-notification laws; he did not. In the Senate, she cosponsored legislation with former impeachment champion Sam Brownback to study the effects of mass media on children and hired a staffer to reach out to abortion foes.

Clinton has also come under criticism recently for not supporting marriage equality until 2013, long after this became the politically safe position to take. She has most recently received unfavorable criticism for her handling of an interview with Terry Gross on this subject, although after listening to the interview I did not feel she did as badly as many others have written.

For the right to call Hillary Clinton a left-wing radical is even more absurd than their current claims that Barack Obama is a socialist. How would they respond if an actual leftist were to become president?

Beinart went on to describe how, after 9/11, Clinton joined Joe Lieberman on the far right of the Democratic Party, going as far as to claim 9/11 as justification for the war in Iraq and failing to recognize her mistake until virtually everyone else had abandoned her original view:

Almost as soon as the twin towers fell, Hillary began staking out positions on the right edge of her party. On Sept. 12, from the floor of the Senate, she warned—in language similar to George W. Bush’s—that regimes that “in any way aid or comfort [terrorists] whatsoever will now face the wrath of our country.” As Gerth and Van Natta detailed, Hillary did not just vote to authorize war with Iraq—something most other nationally ambitious Democrats did as well—she justified her vote by citing Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaida, a claim echoed by only one other Senate Democrat, Joe Lieberman.

Even once it became clear that governing postwar Iraq would be far harder than the Bush administration had predicted, Hillary gave little ground. In a December 2003 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she called her Iraq decision “the right vote” and insisted that “failure is not an option.” As late as February 2005, when Iraq was already in civil war, she drew attention to the “many parts of Iraq that are functioning quite well” and warned that it “would be a mistake” to set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops.

In bucking her party’s liberal base, Hillary almost certainly believed she was doing the right thing. She was “cursed,” she declared, when explaining her refusal to join John Edwards’s 2007 call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, “with the responsibility gene.” Hillary’s intellectual failure lay in her inability to recognize that the definition of “responsibility” she had developed during the 1990s, with its emphasis on American freedom of action and the utility of military force, was being abused and misapplied in Iraq. Her political failure lay in her inability to see how dramatically the center of gravity in her party was shifting away from her point of view.

As the situation in Iraq went south, liberal activists—enraged at the Democratic Party’s ideologically hawkish, politically submissive leaders—launched an intraparty rebellion. The first sign came in 2003, when blogs like Daily Kos and activist groups like MoveOn.org powered Howard Dean’s stunning insurgency against a field of Washington Democrats who had backed the war. Yet during that period, Hillary and her top advisers were remarkably slow to recognize that the ground was shifting underneath their feet, and that the centrist strategy they had laid out at the beginning of her Senate career was now dangerously outdated.

Clinton’s failure to recognize how the Democratic party was changing could be seen in her choice of Mark Penn to be chief strategist for her campaign: “Hillary put her fate in the hands of a consultant who not only discounted their influence but loathed them.” Her presidential campaign only reinforced suspicion of her among many liberals:

But while she may have had no good way to discuss her Iraq vote, Hillary could have at least signaled to angry liberals that she would act differently on Iran. Instead, she picked a fight over Obama’s willingness to meet Tehran’s leaders without preconditions, a fight that to many liberals confirmed that Obama would change Bush foreign policy while Hillary represented more of the same.

More broadly, Hillary’s campaign failed to adequately recognize that her Iraq vote had convinced many liberals that she lacked the courage of her convictions. As an actress playing Hillary quipped on Saturday Night Live in January 2007, “I think most Democrats know me. They understand that my support for the war was always insincere.” In that environment, Hillary’s unwillingness to embrace controversial liberal causes for fear that they’d be used against her in the general election became a character issue. Arguably, the key moment in Hillary’s demise came at a Drexel University debate on Oct. 30, when she refused to forthrightly endorse New York state’s plan to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and was slammed by her opponents and the press for trying to have it both ways. Eleven days later, in perhaps his most important speech of the primary campaign, Obama wowed a Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Iowa, declaring that “not answering questions because we are afraid our answers won’t be popular just won’t do.” At a time when Democratic primary voters were hungry for authenticity and backbone, Penn’s efforts to inoculate Hillary against right-wing attack convinced many liberals that she lacked both.

Beinart concluded (emphasis mine):

NONE OF THIS is to suggest that Hillary would be an ineffective president—only that her successes and failures would look different from Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s. Bill’s failures often owed to indiscipline. Obama’s have stemmed in part from aloofness. If past is prologue, Hillary’s would stem in significant measure from unwillingness to change course. Hillary does learn from her mistakes. But only after the damage is done.

Her successes as president, on the other hand, would likely result from the kind of hands-on, methodical, unyielding drive that both Bill Clinton and Obama struggled to sustain. In her wonkishness and her moderate liberalism, Hillary has much in common with Obama and her husband. But her “tunnel vision”—in the words of a close friend quoted in Sally Bedell Smith’s For Love of Politicsmight produce a presidency more stylistically akin to that of George W. Bush. For years now, Democrats have yearned for a leader who champions their causes with the same single-minded, supremely confident, unwavering intensity that they believe Republican leaders bring to theirs. For better and worse, they may soon get their wish.

For better and worse. While undoubtedly far better than a presidency in the hands of any imaginable Republican opponent at present, I also feel that Democrats who are now so willing to hand her the nomination will also see the worse aspects.

Other controversies also surround Clinton at present. Matthew Contenetti has raised criticism this week of Clinton’s early defense of child rapist. See Doug Mataconis and Steve M for responses.

Even a simple question from The New York Times Book Review has created controversy as it reinforced views of Clinton as being calculating and dishonest:

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

Gawker’s reaction was that, “Some people like Hillary Clinton. Other people dislike Hillary Clinton. However you feel about Hillary Clinton, it is difficult to deny that she is one of the most cold and calculating political figures in all the land.” This led to a link to a 2013 article on Clinton’s Cowardice As a Political Philosophy, which looked at her views on Iraq and gay marriage.

The Daily Banter responded:

But does Clinton calling the Bible her most influential book tantamount to a political calculation?

Yes it does.

It would be one thing if Clinton meant that the Bible has been the most influential on her because it’s had a profound impact on the course of human history for more than 2,000 years. However, she wasn’t talking about the book’s cultural and political impact, but rather the influence it’s had on her personally as a reader of it.

Because if the book with the biggest influence on Hillary Clinton were truly the Bible, she would never have gotten to where she is. The Bible, however beloved it may be, is not a book conducive to thinking. Rather, the Bible deals in revealed wisdom written by men of antiquity who probably knew less about the natural world than a contemporary American fifth grader. Without question there are passages in the Bible that may very well have given her a modicum of wisdom, comfort, and encouragement, but for every such excerpt there is one or more that couldn’t be more disturbing and anathema to what we today call common decency.

There is no time to air all the dirty laundry of the Bible here. Besides, most Americans are familiar with its horrors, yet many seem to accept it as a sort of general guide on how to live by focusing on passages they find agreeable while discarding the rest.

The “rest” would include the multiple instances of mass killing in the Old Testament, including the great flood started by god that wiped out nearly all of humanity. Homosexuals, witches, and Sabbath-breakers are ordered killed. The Ten Commandments say that one must only worship Yahweh, who judges people merely for what they think. Interestingly enough, rape is not mentioned in the commandments.

In the New Testament, we come to learn that those who do not accept that Jesus was brutally tortured and killed for their sins will suffer in hell in anguish for all eternity simply for not believing. This is founding principle of Christianity.

And yet this is the text that Hillary Clinton — a Yale Law School-educated former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State — says is the book that’s had the biggest impact on her life.

You can believe it if you like. And if you do, there’s a bridge near me I’d like to sell you.

While hardly the biggest campaign issue, this also underscores Hillary Clinton’s lack of self-awareness, failing to understand how a dishonest and calculating answer such as this does nothing to appease the right while reinforcing reservations about her from the left.

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Medicaid Is Not The Route To A Single-Payer Plan

Corrente is a far left blog which I generally have little interest in, but there are bound to be times when our interests overlap. Today I must say they are right while Paul Krugman and several other liberal writers/bloggers, who I would generally side with over Corrente, are wrong. Paul Krugman and some other liberal writers have been praising Medicaid expansion as if it is a path towards a single-payer plan. A writer at Corrente counters with a post saying that Paul Krugman is wrong about Medicaid.

The writer describe some of their negative experiences in a Medicaid program and concluded:

This is not the system Krugman imagines. He’s not alone; most Democrats and many people who describe themselves as progressive are celebrating the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare as an extraordinary advance. In terms of coverage, they’re right. In terms of steering the country toward health care equity, they’re wrong. Medicaid patients are too often treated as second-class citizens, and the problem is likely to worsen without the kind of drastic reform I mentioned earlier.

There are at present about 150 million Americans being served by at least a half-dozen single-payer systems. We need to take the most popular of those systems and expand it to provide cradle-to-grave coverage for everyone in the country, and improve it to achieve the health care equity that Americans deserve and that President Obama has described as a basic human right. We need Medicare for all.

Medicaid, as the author acknowledged, varies from state to state and even within different parts of states. Some people will have better or worse experience, but the fact remains that in general Medicaid patients are second-class citizens in the health care system. Access to care does vary, but is far different from the health care experiences of most Americans who have insurance or are covered by Medicare. My office receives quite a few calls each week from both people on Medicaid who do not have physicians and from those who desire to get away from the second-class care they often receive in the clinics which will see them. While better than no coverage, to those who have better coverage Medicaid would represent all the horrors of government run health care which the right has been crying about.

I bet that Krugman, and those who echo his views, would change their minds very quickly if they had to give up their private physicians and obtain all their care through Medicaid clinics.

The blogger at Corrente is also correct that, while Medicare is not perfect, Medicare for all would be a much better model for a single-payer plan. It is far better than Medicaid, while still keeping costs down.

I must conclude by also pointing out that Medicaid expansion is not without benefits. Having Medicaid is still far better than having no coverage, despite misinterpretations being spread by conservatives regarding studies of Medicaid expansion in Oregon. I previously discussed this topic here. When the Affordable Care Act was being considered in Congress while the Democrats technically had sixty votes, there weren’t sixty votes for either a pubic option or even a Medicare buy-in, due to opposition by Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. With limited money to expand health care coverage, and the impossibility of a single-payer system based on Medicare getting through Congress, Medicaid expansion was an understandable compromise to provide some coverage to the working poor. That does not make it a desirable model for moving to a single-payer plan.

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Quote of the Day

“Joe Lieberman is writing a book about the Jewish Sabbath called “Gift of Rest.” I hear he’s been working on it 24/6.” –Jimmy Fallon

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Clyburn Urges Democratic Votes To Revive Public Option

This is definitely a case of too little, too late (even if it is what I had suggested months ago). Back when there were not enough votes for the public option in the Senate due to the opposition of Republicans, one independent (Joe Lieberman), and one conservative Democrat (Ben Nelson) I suggested that the Democrats make this a campaign issue. The majority of the people (as well as majority of members of the Senate) were in favor. Make it a campaign issue and force Republicans to explain why they oppose this choice and go on the defensive. Instead the Democrats, after doing a poor job against the Republicans in the spin war, have been the ones on the defensive, desperately hoping voters won’t buy all the Republican misinformation being spread about the plan.

While most Democrats have tried to avoid discussing health care, there have been some exceptions. Majority Whip James Clyburn is even using the promise of a public option as a reason to keep the Democrats in control of Congress. The Hill reports:

Democrats could revive the public healthcare option if they maintain their majorities in Congress, the House Democrats’ third-ranking member said Friday.

“Reelect me, keep Democrats on the field. And when we come back next year, maybe we will get to the public option,” Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.) said during an appearance on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

Clyburn has been traveling the country and making media appearances this week in an effort to drum up lagging voter enthusiasm on the Democratic side heading into the Nov. 2 midterms.

The public healthcare option was a top prize for liberal activists during the nearly two-year long debate over healthcare reform, but it was scrapped from the final legislation after support for it fell short in the Senate.

Campaigning for issues such as the public option could gain the support of many voters. At very least it would help motivate Democratic voters to turn out. Just giving Democratic voters more reason to turn out could change the outcome. Polls show that support for each party is very close, but far more Republicans than Democrats are expected to turn out to vote.

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Sarah Palin Falls To Bush Levels Of Unpopularity, With Joe Lieberman Not Far Behind

George W. Bush has the distinction of having a low approval rating of only 25 percent in the Gallup poll, just one percent above Richard Nixon who was forced to resign in disgrace. CBS News had his final approval rating even lower at 22 percent–which happens to be Sarah Palin’s current approval rating from the same organization. It appears that 22 percent might be the level of support a Republican politician can count on regardless of how incompetent they are.

More numbers from the poll:

Palin is viewed favorably by just 22 percent of Americans, according to the poll – including less than half (44 percent) of Republicans. Twenty-one percent of independents and 6 percent of Democrats view her favorably.

Forty-eight percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Palin. That includes 73 percent of Democrats, 44 percent of independents and 22 percent of Republicans.

Another politician has seen their support fall to the same ball park as the Bush/Palin level. A survey from Public Policy Polling found that only 24 percent plan to vote for Joseph Lieberman for reelection, although his approval rating remains barely over 30 percent:

Majorities of Democrats (72%), independents (63%), and Republicans (61%) alike say it’s time to swap out Lieberman for someone new.

Lieberman is one of the most unpopular Senators in the country, with only a 31% approval rating and 57% of voters disapproving of his job performance. He’s on slightly favorable ground with Republicans at a 46/41 approval rating. But he’s lost virtually any remaining support he had with Democrats at a 20/69 approval and independents are against him as well, by a 31/56 spread.

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Democrats Up or Down, Depending Upon The Poll

More polls are conclusively showing only one thing–polls taken far in advance of an election are of little value (probably as most voters have not even given the election all that much thought). First there’s the polls on this year’s off year Congressional elections. Public Policy Polling finds that Barack Obama’s approval has hit a new low (as Obama continues to follow Ronald Reagan’s trajectory in the polls). The conventional wisdom is that off year elections are a referendum on the recently elected president. For this we’d expect that the Democrats would be falling behind the Republicans in the generic Congressional election. Instead the two are at a 43 percent tie.

Making matters even less clear. Gallup found that the Democrats have shot up to a six point lead over the Republicans in the generic poll. Perhaps some voters are starting to remember exactly why they voted against the Republicans in 2006 and 2008. No matter how bad the economy is, it makes no sense to vote for the party which caused this mess.

Yesterday, probably before these results were available, Nate Silver made some predictions based upon the finding that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting at present than Democrats are. Nate looked at the odds of the Republicans taking control of the Senate:

Our latest Senate simulation has the chamber convening in 2011 with an average of 53.4 Democrats (counting Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders), 46.1 Republicans, and 0.5 Charlie Crists. This is an improvement for Republicans from our last forecast three weeks ago, which had 55.2 Democrats, 44.2 Republicans, and 0.6 Crists. The changes, however, predominantly reflect several methodological improvements we have made rather than any particular national momentum, although the dynamics of some individual contests are certainly evolving.

The model gives Republicans a 17 percent chance of taking over the Senate if Charlie Crist caucuses with them, up significantly from 6 percent three weeks ago. If Crist does not caucus with them, their chances of a takeover are 12 percent. However, the model does not account for the contingency that someone like Joe Lieberman or Ben Nelson could decide to switch parties, which makes their chances slightly better than we suggest here.

If the polls are inconclusive regarding the 2010 elections, polling on the 2012 election is even less clear.  For example, a recent PPP poll found Sarah Palin tied at 46 percent with Obama in a hypothetical 2012 match up. However a  Time Magazine Poll shows Obama leading Palin by 21 points, 55 percent to 34 percent. In other words, the polls show either a tie or landslide which might exceed Lyndon Johnson’s victory over Barry Goldwater.

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Joe Lieberman Thanks God For GOP Momentum

In a moment which might come to define him as much as kissing George Bush in 2005, Joe Lieberman made a statement today which many Democrats might never forget:

“There were a lot of people, particularly Democrats, who were declaring after the 2008 election that we were beginning a period of Democratic dominance that would go on for decades,” Lieberman said during an interview with the conservative Newsmax magazine.

“Now, all of a sudden, the momentum is with the Republicans. And that’s — thank God — that’s the way people have spoken, you know? That’s our democracy.”

Lieberman actively campaigned for the Republican presidential candidate in 2008 and now has expressed support for Republican gains in Congress. At least he did vote with the Democrats on health care reform–but only after he helped kill the public option and Medicare buy-in.

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Prospects Improving For Health Care Reform, Including Public Option

From reports over the last few days it is appearing increasingly likely that Congress will pass health care reform by having the House pass the Senate bill and making changes by budget reconciliation which only require a simple majority, a strategy frequently used to pass legislation during the Bush years.

Going from a requirement of a sixty vote super-majority to using reconciliation which only requires a simple majority vote also means that the Democrats no longer need to be concerned about compromising to obtain the votes of conservatives such as Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson. This will allow them to pass measures supported by the majority such as a public option.

The public option is widely supported by the public, and is essential to reduce opposition to the bill created by the individual mandate. The public option would give consumers in the individual market the choice of voluntarily purchasing a government-run insurance plan modeled on the popular and highly successful Medicare program. Consumers would also have a choice of private insurance plans offered on the proposed insurance exchanges. The public option would be financed from premiums paid by those who chose the public option over private plans. Initial start up money for the public option coming from tax funds would have to be paid back.

When health care reform stalled after the lose of Ted Kennedy’s former Senate seat many on the left were urging for more immediate passage of the Senate plan. I was opposed to such immediate passage considering the political risk that this could lead to Republican gains in November, jeopardizing long term government action to reform health care delivery. Instead it appears the Democrats are following the path I favored: taking action to explain the health care plan to the voters, improve upon the Senate plan, and make clear the obstructionist policies of the Republican Party prior to passage. Both of these goals might be accomplished with the upcoming health care summit to be held prior to a final vote.

President Obama also used his weekly address to push for health care reform and it is a safe bet we will be hearing much more from him on the topic over the next several weeks. Polling over the past year has showed increases in public support for health care when discussed by Obama while support tends to decline when Republican misinformation dominates the news.  Recent double digit increases in health insurance premiums on the individual market have also highlighted how essential it is to pass health care reform this year.

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Joe Lieberman, Not a Good Old-Fashioned New England Moderate Republican

In an interview on Face the Nation, Joe Lieberman was asked if he could see himself as a Republican. Lieberman said, “it’s possible. A good old-fashioned New England moderate Republican.”

I see “a good old-fashioned New England moderate Republican” as one who would have broken with his party and opposed the Iraq war and who would have joined the Democrats in working towards health care reform without killing good ideas such as the public option and the Medicare buy-in.
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Health Care Reform Critical But Not Dead

The prognosis for health care reform is rather guarded at the moment. House majority whip James Clyburn is saying that the House will pass the Senate bill if there are assurances that fixes will be made through a separate budget reconciliation bill. It is far from certain that the Senate will be able to do this. Reports coming out of the Senate do not sound like they are prepared to make such an arrangement to pass such fixes even though only 50 votes (plus Joe Biden as tie breaker) are needed.

Two conservative Democrats, Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh, have already stated they will not support a reconciliation measure. The two Senators from Connecticut, Chris Dodd (Democrat) and Joe Lieberman (Schmuck) are suggesting that President Obama use the State of the Union Address to “re-invite” the Republicans back to negotiate on health care legislation. So far the Republicans have not shown any interest in negotiating, preferring to block any legislation trying make the Democrats look like failures regardless of how much they harm the country. So far their strategy might be working.

While I am extremely pessimistic about the Republicans being willing to negotiate in good faith, if they should shock us all there could even be one benefit. Perhaps a deal could be made in which the Democrats do concede one point to the Republicans and proceed with malpractice reform. This will have a far smaller impact on health care costs than Republicans typically claim but we should not overlook any source of savings such as this which does not require reductions in care provided.

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