I've previously argued that the Senate healthcare bill is much better than none. I agree with Jonathan Rauch about this - he makes the case especially well - and with Paul Krugman.
But is this a sufficient reason to say that the House should pass the
Senate bill rather let the matter drop? No. These are separate
Even if I am right that the Senate bill is better
than nothing, there are two complications. One concerns political
strategy, the other democratic legitimacy.
The Senate bill is
not popular. Most voters want Congress to walk away and start over. If
Democrats say we will pass this bill despite hearing that message, they
are asking for a drubbing in November - an outcome that would put the
rest of the party's agenda in jeopardy. If I were a Democrat, I might
conscientiously prefer retaining control of the House to passing the
Senate bill. I might think that, on balance, this was the best outcome
for the country.
That is the strategic issue: how much harm does
the party inflict on itself by pressing on? But suppose for the sake of
argument that passing an unpopular healthcare reform will not hurt, and
might even help, the Democrats' prospects in November, as some seem to
believe. Would it be right, in any event, to pass a bill that most
Americans oppose? It would help to be sure that the country had failed
to understand the proposal. (Whose fault would that be, by the way?)
But this seems a bit of a stretch, even though there is a lot of
confusion about what the measure would do. It is an even bigger
stretch, I think, to call failing to pass an unpopular bill a "betrayal
of trust", as Krugman does. Whose trust?
If I were a congressman, certain this bill was better than nothing, and the voters
in my district had decided they did not want it, I ought to think hard
before shoving it down their throats, even if I were confident they
would come to love me for it later.
It would not be enough to
feel that the bill was merely better than nothing. I'd want to feel it
was so much better than nothing - and so important - that I was right
to ignore the people I am supposed to be representing, the people I'd
failed to convince of the merits of my case. I'd expect to lose the
next election and would have no complaints.
This is a high bar. In the end, I'd vote for the Senate bill - but this answer is not obvious, even if the bill is as good as I think. There are respectable reasons (as well as sleazy ones) for admitting defeat.