It should have been obvious …

Republicans won’t vote for the Baucus compromise. Finance Committee Democrats are going to write a purely Democratic bill instead.

… but I’m glad to see that it’s actually happening.  Now that all of the concessions Max Baucus made to try to win Republican votes for health care finance reform have garnered exactly zero Republican votes for health care finance reform, the Democrats on the Finance Committee (including those frozen out of the Gang of Six charade) are going to write a Democratic bill and try to pass it with purely Democratic votes (plus maybe Olympia Snowe).  

There are three reasons for doing this:

- A purely Democratic plan might be substantively better:  for example by having higher subisides paid for with alcohol taxes.  (See below.)

- The Baucus bill might not be able to command enough Democratic votes to pass.

– By writing a bill that damages the interests Republicans hold dear, Democrats can punish Republicans for their intransigence.   That will tend to lead the GOP’s corporate paymasters to encourage their tame lawmakers to behave themselves in future negotiations.   If obstruction is free, the Republicans will keep obstructing.

For example, the beer distributors and the rest of the alcoholic beverage industries would really, really hate a doubling of the alchohol excise taxs.   They’re also heavy contributors to Republicans campaigns.  Doubling those taxes would bring in an additional $80 billion over 10 years, which would go a long way toward paying for more subsidies for middle-income families to buy health insurance.  (And cut homicides and automotive deaths by several percent; higher taxes hit hardest at the drinking of heavy drinkers.)

All eyes will be watching to see if the revised bill includes a public option.

All eyes save mine, that is:  what I’m really hoping for is subsidies up to 400% of poverty.  Apparently Snowe wants a more generous subsidy plan.

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. Books: 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) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

5 thoughts on “It should have been obvious …”

  1. Seriously? "Democrats can punish the Republicans…" Is this middle school? I agree that Republicans haven't made legislation easy, but passing a bill that is written just to spite them? Seems childish and not something with which I want my representatives to associate, regardless of political party.

  2. The beer folks are powerful enemies to pick on. The one time I visited a congressional office building was back in the 1990's. There were large numbers of beer lobby people, who were easy to identify because they all had on lapel pins. They were streaming around in packs in the capitol and my congressman and senators' office buildings.

    They also have a variety of state-level lobbying groups. One reason alcohol taxes have been falling because of inflation is that they know how to play politics.

    If health care reformers want to make an enemy, I think the tobacco companies are a better target.

    I worry that with a alcohol tax that the alcohol lobby will run independent ads against democrats describing the tax increase in detail.

    Also not all of the alcohol industry are republicans. The Gallo family are big GOP donors, but a lot of other vintners are democrats.

  3. Tyler, I think Mark's point is more about disincentivizing political obstruction than spiting Republicans in the style of middle schoolers.

  4. Punishment is not just something one does out of spite. Punishment is one of the main mechanisms by which people learn not to repeat mistakes.

    The Republicans were offered chance after chance after chance to cooperate on health-care reform. They refused. Punishment–in the form of a good bill that has no concessions to them–might well teach them that failure to cooperate is bad for their situation.

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