James Surowiecki in The New Yorker (link not directly to the post):
While I think it’s true that the most fervent advocates of health-care reform have underestimated the anxiety and doubt many American voters have about whether reform will actually make them better off, it’s also true that the political need to pass health-care reform in a bipartisan manner has been completely overstated. The argument, which David Brooks made a couple of days ago, is that it would be politically “suicidal” for Obama to use reconciliation (a legislative tool that would allow him to circumvent the Republicans’ use of the filibuster in the Senate) to pass health-care reform. Voters would supposedly remember this as a slap in the face, and independents would be “permanently alienate[d].”
Set aside the philosophical point that requiring bills to get sixty votes in the Senate before they become law contradicts the logic of majority rule. Even in straight political terms, where is the evidence that ordinary voters remember how laws were passed and reward or punish politicians based on that? On the contrary, voters judge politicians (to the extent that they make rational decisions) based on whether the laws they passed worked or not. In my recent interview with Barney Frank, he made this point with reference to the 2003 expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs. That bill passed the House of Representatives by one vote, and only passed because the Republican leadership kept the vote open for hours so that they could strong-arm members into supporting it. But, as Frank said, voters today aren’t asking for its repeal or complaining about the way the benefit was enacted, because—for all of its flaws, like the infamous “doughnut hole”—on the whole they’re reasonably happy with the way the plan has worked. The reality is that if the Administration passes significant health-care reform that works—that is, it regulates bad behavior by the insurance companies, makes insurance portable, makes it possible for individuals to buy insurance at reasonable rates, and reduces (as a result) the number of the uninsured—American voters will not care that it passed via reconciliation. Political victory on this issue isn’t going to be determined by how the law gets enacted. It’ll be determined by what happens once it is enacted.
Right. By the same token, voters don’t reward you for passing laws that were popular at the time you voted for them. Voters reward you for passing laws that are popular on Election Day. Voting for something that people think they like, but that they actually wind up hating in practice, doesn’t do you any good. But voting for something that people are skeptical about, but that they actually wind up liking in practice, doesn’t do you any harm.
Personally, I do care about process and I’m not in favor of doing away with the filibuster as a matter of course. But the health care bill is too important to be subject to Joe Lieberman’s and Ben Nelson’s whims. Ram the goddamn thing through by any means necessary. The health of 50 million uninsured Americans has to take precedence over the egos of six Senators.
If it’s a good bill, it will be a huge political victory for Democrats. If it’s Blue Dogged piece of corporatist garbage, it’s probably a political wash. And if it doesn’t pass at all, it’s a small-scale political disaster for Democrats
No matter how it passes or fails to pass.
Pundits have a magical way of discerning how the American public will be outraged by exactly whatever outrages the pundit in question.
Of course, I would take things ever further than Surowiecki does here. Voters very rarely even vote based on whether various policies are “working.” How in the hell would the average voter know if health-care reform had “worked” on the national level? Instead, they’ll vote on the general economy and their own feeling of well-being.