I wish that “centrist” Democrats remembered the lessons of 1993 and 1994 as well as the Republicans do. Not passing health care reform this year would be a devastating blow to the Obama Presidency. And any Democrat who thinks that that sort of defeat wouldn’t cost Democrats seats on the Hill needs to have his or her (I’m looking at you, Mary Landrieu) head examined.
In 1993, Democratic “centrists” on Capitol Hill helped defeat Hillarycare, believing that their power was unshakable and would be increased by teaching the new President a lesson about who was boss. The Gingrich Revolution was condign punishment for them, though what the rest of us did to deserve it I don’t know.
For Gingrich and his allies, the health care debate wasn’t really about health care: it was about destroying the power of a Democratic President.
It’s not surprising that the Republicans have remembered that lesson, but it’s disappointing that the “centrist” Democrats have forgotten it. This bill is make or break for the Democratic Party, and Harry Reid ought to enforce party discipline on the cloture vote. No on cloture should mean no subcommittee chair, no pork, and no money from the DSCC.
Every Senator should be free to vote his conscience, or his constituents, or his contributors on final passage, and on amendments. But no Democrat should side with the Republicans in denying the President an up-or-down vote on his top priority, which has been a central issue for Democrats going back to Harry Truman.
Author: Mark Kleiman
Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out.
Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken)
When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist
Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993)
Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989)
View all posts by Mark Kleiman