It would appear the the White House may — if a largely unsourced NYT article is correct — finally have undergone a drastic surgical procedure to clean out heavy deposits of wax from its ears.
After weeks of championing Chuck Grassley as the patron saint of bipartisan healthcare reform, they now seem to be prepared to sing a different tune. It seems they have suddenly started hearing what Grassley has been clearly, emphatically, unambiguously saying for a while.
Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.
Republicans have used the Congressional break to dig in hard against the overhaul outline drawn by Democrats. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, is the latest to weigh in strongly, saying Tuesday that the public response lawmakers were seeing over the summer break should persuade Democrats to scrap their approach and start over.
“I think it is safe to say there are a huge number of big issues that people have,” Mr. Kyl told reporters in a conference call from Arizona. “There is no way that Republicans are going to support a trillion-dollar-plus bill.”
The White House has also interpreted critical comments by Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican negotiator in a crucial Finance Committee effort to reach a bipartisan compromise, as a sign that there is little hope of reaching a deal politically acceptable to both parties.
The White House, carefully following Mr. Grassley’s activities, presumed he was no longer interested in negotiating with Democrats after he initially made no effort to debunk misinformation that the legislation could lead to “death panels” empowered to judge who would receive care.
Citing a packed schedule, Mr. Grassley has also put off plans for the bipartisan group of Finance Committee negotiators to meet in either Iowa or Maine, the home of another Republican member of the group, Senator Olympia J. Snowe, before Congress resumes.
Further, Mr. Grassley said this week that he would vote against a bill unless it had wide support from Republicans, even if it included all the provisions he wanted. “I am negotiating for Republicans,” he told MSNBC.
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Grassley said he had simply been repeating earlier comments that he would not support a measure that did not have significant Republican support.
Still, nobody in the administration is willing to speak on the record yet. So this may just be a trial balloon. And even if it isn’t, at this point negotiating a healthcare reform bill with moderate and conservative Democrats might be just as frustrating as negotiating with Snake-in-the-Grassley:
The Democratic shift may not make producing a final bill much easier. The party must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers.
On the other hand, such a change could alter the dynamic of talks surrounding health care legislation, and even change the substance of a final bill. With no need to negotiate with Republicans, Democrats might be better able to move more quickly, relying on their large majorities in both houses.
Better able to move more quickly, maybe. But towards what exactly is the question. Has the White House’s extended and perfectly pointless flirtation with the likes of Grassley managed to kill off the public option for good?