Why Are Liberal Dems Fleeing Health Care?

Jonathan Chait's theory: "The Progressive Suicidal Impulse"

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As President Obama and Democratic leaders finally get health care reform on the verge of passage, it's not terribly surprising to see the most conservative members of the health care coalition getting antsy. After all, more conservative congressmen still want to push some provisions--especially relating to abortion--to the right. What is surprising is that this long-sought legislative goal of liberals may be challenged by none other than... liberals.

Former presidential candidate Representative Dennis Kucinich plans to repeat his "no" vote. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the co-chair of the 79-member House Progressive Caucus, says "a 'no' vote is something that I continue to lean toward" on health care. Grijalva, who leads the leftmost block of Congress, carries real influence with fellow liberal Democrats. Could he and other progressives really kill health care? Why would they?

  • Why I'd Vote No  Speaking to Salon, Grijalva explains. "As I weigh it, I think -- for me -- a 'no' vote is something that I continue to lean toward ... Especially the last additions -- that was kind of a slap in the face for all of us who fought for the public option." He is especially concerned about Obama's inclusion of GOP proposals for health savings accounts. "When we were in the minority," the HSAs were "something that we fought tooth and nail to keep out." He adds, "I find that ironic -- something that we had fought to keep out, and indeed were successful, gets back in as part of reconciliation. And a public option that enjoys great support in the House and up to 30 senators gets left out. That's something I just don't understand."
  • 'The Progressive Suicidal Impulse'  The New Republic's Jonathan Chait shakes his head. "There is certainly a rationale to the public reticence of the Democrats' left wing -- it preserves bargaining leverage, and it helps position the bill toward the center. But liberal opposition has also imposed significant costs," he writes. "Given what's at stake, the lack of liberal pressure for passage is simply astonishing ... the most committed Democrats believe, absurdly, that the final bill has been compromised down to something that only barely improves the status quo."
  • With Obama's GOP Focus, Libs Furious  Salon's Mike Madden points to the White House's incorporation of Republican ideas in the health care bill, meant to appease moderates and strike a bipartisan pose. Grijalva "could indicate a serious problem is brewing among liberals as Democratic leaders try to figure out a way to finish work on the legislation." His caucus "probably won't whip its 79 members to vote for or against the healthcare bill, Grijalva said." With the margins so thin, declining to lobby in support of the bill could be enough.
  • Pro-Reform Coalition Narrows  Conservative blogger Allahpundit wonders how it can be bipartisan when even the left and right wings of the Democratic party hate it. "Given the ideological differences between Arcuri and Grijalva, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's] point about bipartisan opposition is even truer than it at first seems," he writes. "The beauty of [Blue Dog Dem] Arcuri and Grijalva speaking up, of course, is that it'll encourage other fencesitters to commit to voting no. The less likely it seems that this thing will pass, the less undecideds have to worry about their vote being the difference and the easier it becomes to abandon ship. Here's to an imminent dam burst."
  • Most Libs Still Support, But For How Long?  The New Republic's Neera Tanden writes that the Senate bill now going to the House is "a moderate Democrat's dream" geared sharply toward Blue Dogs. "Now, most of these provisions that should appeal to Blue Dogs are a source of agitation for liberals. But liberals seem to have made the following calculation: In order to get a bill that covers 30 million Americans, with insurance reforms that protect consumers, they will swallow hard and accept several provisions that anger them. It's called compromise--and, in some quarters, it's also known as governing." But will they give up?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.