Paul Marin, Columnist
Ideology: Liberal Republican | Writing From: George Washington University
In 2008, President Obama was swept into office with a mandate from a disillusioned electorate to bring a new bipartisan and idealistic atmosphere to Washington. But this bipartisan spirit did not carry through the next year. Both parties have made cynical, self-servingly partisan political calculations regarding the major issue of healthcare: the Democrats considered the passage of healthcare legislation as crucial to retaining Congressional power past 2010, while the Republicans calculated that a successful defeat of healthcare reform would ensure a repeat of the 1994 GOP landslide.
It is not hard to see the political logic of these two strategies. A failure for the Democrats to enact healthcare reform would make them seem useless and incapable of addressing one of America’s most pressing issues. Moreover, through the protracted healthcare debate, the Democrats would have wasted a year in which other pressing issues like joblessness, energy independence, and immigration could have been addressed. If, according to conventional political wisdom, such a perception would take hold, the Democrats would be doomed. Conversely, if the Republicans were to fail to stop such a considerable expansion of the role of government – in a sector as large as healthcare, no less – would cause them to be perceived as irrelevant. And as nobody in their right mind likes to be represented by an irrelevant party, the Republicans would be confined to a small and impotent minority in both Chambers of Congress.
Under this mindset, the stakes of the healthcare debate are not the welfare of the nation, the health of its citizens, and the amount of future burdens on the federal government but the scoring of electoral points for the political parties. The result of this mindset is a toothless legislation filled with special exemptions for labor unions and for states represented by “recalcitrant” senators, and a legislation that does not diminish the exploding cost of healthcare. The alternative — a bipartisan legislation that would both reduce real costs and expand coverage — did not appeal to those with an eye on the next election.
To prevent legislators from behaving similarly in the next decade, the cynical political calculations made by both parties around healthcare ought to be disproved. Ideally, if the current plan does pass, the Democrats should be swept out of office as a means to reject their “passage of the most possible partisan bill at all cost” mentality. Conversely, if healthcare reform fails, the Republicans ought to be denied access to Congress in 2010 as punishment for their “defeat Obama and the Democrats at all cost” approach. These two, albeit unlikely, outcomes would finally shatter the myth of 1994 election — the idea that if a minority party blocks any major initiative of the majority party, the minority party will be swept into office, and, the idea that the passage of healthcare reform, regardless of its merits, is the key for Democratic hegemony in Congress. Only when political strategists will stop being charmed by the myth of the 1994 election will they realize that the key to power is solving the country’s objective problems.