Backward Bipartisanship.

Leading up to the White House health-care "summit" on Feb. 25, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat -- trying hard to seem like a reasonable conservative -- offers a blueprint for bipartisanship:

The right seeks a functioning marketplace in health care, subsidized but not micromanaged by the government. However many small steps the Democratic legislation takes in that direction, its biggest step goes miles the other way — toward a world where consumers are required to buy a particular kind of health insurance, insurers are required to sell it to them, and the cost of health care gets held down, ultimately, by price controls and bureaucratic supervision.

But if conservatives are understandably annoyed by the liberal claim that the bill is already bipartisan, Democrats have a legitimate frustration of their own. Republicans keep insisting that they share the goals of reform, they just want a more incremental and less polarizing approach. But when it comes time to put forward actual proposals, they tend to fall back on ideas that are neither particularly bipartisan nor particularly responsive to the central issue animating the Democrats’ reform effort — the problem of the uninsured.

Actual negotiations, then, would require that each party address the other’s frustrations. Democrats would need to put the overall structure of the bill up for debate, instead of just offering concessions around the edges. Republicans would need to show up with proposals that have more heft, and more bipartisan appeal, than their predictable calls for interstate purchasing and tort reform.

Douthat goes on to recommend a watered-down reform plan from Republican Sen. Judd Gregg as something everyone ought to agree on. This is what calls for bipartisanship on health care sound like: Republicans should compromise by considering actual reform, instead of just opposing everything, while Democrats should compromise by junking the plan they spent a year negotiating, and embracing a Republican proposal. Republicans are asked to give a little, while Democrats are asked to give a lot -- nearly everything, really.

But this is exactly backward. Democrats are the ones in charge. They won the last election. The starting presumption ought to be that they have a right to implement their agenda. If there's compromising to be done, Republicans ought to be doing most of it. After all, they're the minority, not the majority. They're the ones who lost the last election. Why is that so hard to understand?

-- Paul Waldman

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