Sunday, September 13, 2009

Will the Progressive Caucus be willing to walk away from the negotiating table over health care reform?

Digby has been making the argument that when push comes to shove, the Progressive Caucus is likely to vote for a bill without the robust public option than to vote down a bill that is a major priority for the President of their own Party and that would produced substantial benefits for many people: Lines 09/11/09; Strategic Defiance 09/12/09. In the earlier post, she added a postscript expressing her frustration that her commenters weren't distinguishing between her political prediction and the health care policy issues involved.

But on the political issue, doesn't a similar calculation apply to the Progressive Caucus that health care reformers have been applying to the Blue Dogs? Digby herself has made that argument very well: If health care reform fails, it's likely to cost the Democrats House seats. But those are likely to be the most vulnerable House seats, i.e., the Blue Dogs themselves. There is a potentially self-destructive element in the Blue Dogs carrying water for Big Pharma and the insurance corporations on this issue.

It seems to me that Congressional districts like those of Lynn Woolsey or Barbara Lee would be the ones most likely to support their taking a hard line on health care reform, even by voting down a flawed measure that Obama badly wants. (I'm a voter in Barbara's district and I promise not to vote against her for that!)

Digby may well be right on the poli-sci prediction aspect of this. But without sticking to a red line over which they really are willing to walk away from the negotiating table, the Progressive Caucus risks being more of a voice in the wilderness than a faction that the corporate wing of the Party has to appease on key issues.

Also, at this point, the details of the bill the Congress winds up voting on will matter a lot. The corporate Dems would clearly prefer something like the Bad Max version coming out of the Finance Committee. ("Bad Max" from Sen. Max Baucus, Blue Dog chair of the Senate Finance Committee) From Marcy Wheeler's analysis of that bill, I'm very much inclined to think that as a matter of policy enacting a one-sided, corporate-friendly bill like this really would be worse than voting down the whole package.

The Republicans and the Blue Dogs are thinking strategically on this and looking how they can use this moment to block a solid reform while forcing consumers to buy shoddy insurance products at exorbitant prices. However accurate Digby's reading of the Progressive Caucus' likely course may turn out to be, as a matter of policy they need to be willing to vote down a deeply flawed version of reform.

I'd like to think that the White House and the Blue Dogs wouldn't push it to that point. But the Blue Dogs have been willing to vote down genuinely constructive legislation to expand their clout. The Progressive Caucus should be willing to vote down shoddy legislation both to expand their clout and to get better policy outcomes.

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