In a post that starts out panning the “repeal amendment,” Matt Yglesias trots out the old chesnut that Republicans could have gotten a less sweeping health care bill if only they’d been willing to deal. Alas, the mean old conservatives in the party wouldn’t let them.
If Republicans had only nominated Tom Davis to run against Mark Warner in Virginia; if Davis had actualy beaten Warner; if Arlen Specter had remained a Republican; if Republicans had agreed to a “stripped-down” bill after Scott Brown’s election, it All Could Have Been Different. There are things to quibble with even in this bit of alternative history — Davis would have lost to Warner by a smaller margin but he probably still would have lost; the Dems were spooked by Brown’s election for all of two weeks. But liberal Democrats are missing from this analysis.
With the 3-2 Democratic majorities in both houses, the fate of health care reform always hinged on whether the Democrats could come up with a bill that went far enough for the liberals to find it worthwhile yet win centrist votes in large enough numbers to pass. Unanimous Republican opposition strengthened the centrists’ hand in a negotiating process that took part almost exclusively within the Democratic caucus. Liberals moaned and groaned when making concessions to win Ben Nelson’s vote. How much more difficult would it have been to get them to make concessions to secure Chuck Grassley’s?
As bad as the final bill was from a conservative perspective, a public option-less ripoff of Romneycare was probably the best they were ever going to do with a bill that could actually pass. Some of the things persuadable Republicans were looking for — a public option “trigger” or incorporating aspects of Bennett-Wyden — would have actually pushed the bill to the left. Only by House pro-life Democrats standing firm on the Stupak Amendment could a passable version have been pushed to the right. The fact is, it was the liberal Democrats who had compromised about as much as they were going to compromise. Even the bil that ultimately passed might conceivably have lost liberal votes if it had attracted more than token Republican support.
There was a slim chance that the Republicans might have been able to peel off enough jittery moderate Democrats to keep the main bill from passing with a stripped-down bipartisan bill that itself couldn’t pass. You’d still have to identify upwards of ten Democratic senators who would have bitten. Getting enough liberal votes to pass a bipartisan bill appreciably to the right of what Obama signed into law would have proven impossible.