The Case for No-Bill (Brought to You by the 1994 Republican Revolution)

I'm going to be a rude host and flat-out disagree with this guestblogger Dan Munz (who's really doing an excellent job, don't you guys think?). Below, he mentions various plans and shows some willingness to have Democrats fight for one that tracks with our ideals. I disagree completely. No plan, not even one, not even the best fucking plan in the known universe, can be allowed to move forward. Bush began this process in order to destroy Social Security, and I oppose anything that allows him and his party to escape with the ability to brag about the progressive fix they bravely instituted. Bush has long shown a proclivity to lose legislative battles and campaign hard on exactly the bills he spent months opposing. We watched him do it in 2002, with the Deptartment of Homeland Security. We watched him do it in 2004, with McCain-Feingold. And I'll never forget the WaPo article listing all the programs Bush had tried, and often succeeded, in cutting but was using in his stump speeches because local audiences liked them. So he gets nothing.

But this isn't just about Bush. If he was simply an anomaly, a strange aberration from the way Republicans operate, I'd be willing to ignore his fortunes and work for the good of the country. But it's not. These are exactly the tactics they used to kill Health Care in 1994. This from page 448 of The System:

That was the moment, Bennett said later, when he realized the country beyond the Washington Beltway had begun to change dramatically. "The rest of us soon began to get those vibes from the country, " he said. "Pretty soon it was respectable in the Republican [Senate political strategy] conference to say, No bill. Once that scenario became a likely scenario in our mind, the while thing sifter to: We can't let anything pass. We can't let the Democrats get to conference with anything."

Here was the final turning point in all-out Republican opposition. Bennett recalled, "All the co-sponsors of Dole-Packwood were prepared to vote against Dole-Packwood, including Dole and Packwood! I remember Sheila [Burke] saying to dole in my presence as we were bringing up something with respect to Dole-Packwood, and some senator (it may even have been me) saying to Dole, 'I can't vote for that.' Sheila said to Dole, 'And neither can you'!"

When the Republicans were in a position of weakness and health care reform looked certain to pass, they floated compromise bills aimed at watering down the legislation's proposals and creating a final product they could proudly tout to constituents. In other words, they attempted to be legislative partners. But when they had gained the upper hand, that strategy evaporated and the order was put out to simply kill the bill. Which they did. This wasn't just spite, though, there was a real strategy behind it. From page 546:

Even so, Gingrich, the master plotter, feared the Clintons could still escape his trap. Had the President and the First Lady come back to him and said, "Okay, our version of reform is dead, but let's pass yours -- the Rowland-Bilirakis bill, designed by lobbyists, House Republicans and some conservative Democrats as a stopgap to Clinton -- they could have prevailed. "The President could have had a bill-signing," Gingrich told us. "We would have been totally outflanked and we would have helped pass it."

He's right. Even losing the ideological battle, simply being able to say he'd achieved health care reform would've given Clinton, and by extension, the Democrats, a pass on the issue. It would no longer have been relevant in the midterm elections. Same goes for Bush here. If we let him sign a bill, even one that's partially ours, he and the Republicans come out on top for having had the courage to fix Social Security. Never mind that whatever legislation emerges from the effort will be shepherded into a conference committee packed with Republicans and turncoat Dems, who will turn it into a wholly unrecognizable and totally objectionable bill. Even if that wasn't the case, privatization was never begun to shore up Social Security, it has no relationship to the program's fiscal issues. All the linkage drawn by Bush has been simple rhetorical trickery. As such, the logical end of this fight is not a plan to strengthen Social Security, but the passage or rejection of privatization.

This sucks, I know. Trust me, I don't like advocating this position. But the truth is, government is broken. Deliberative Democracy is essentially dead. And, sadly, there's nothing we can do to save it, because to try and play as if the game still has rules will simply leave us broken and bloodied, while the right's mad march to destroy the government will clomp on. So we have to claw and scrap our way through these fights and hope that some sort of bipartisan, return-to-good-government presidential candidate emerges, dominates the election, and changes the face of Congress with his coattails. That's not, by the way, an idle thought, I'd in fact be stunned if it doesn't happen within the next decade. It could come from a known quantity, like McCain or Hagel or Warner, or from a populist who emerges when the rest of us aren't looking, but it's too powerful a message to be ignored. Bush, in fact, ran on it, but quickly proved himself its antithesis. Nevertheless, someone else will take up the mantle and make good on the promise. Until then? No bill. No quarter. No surrender. They wanted to destroy Social Security, and I want them zapped with every bit of juice America's third-rail can provide.