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The Danger of Rejecting Compromises

Earlier this year, a group of former Senate Majority Leaders--Howard Baker and Bob Dole, along with Tom Daschle--released a template for bipartisan health reform. They did so through the Bipartisan Policy Center, which they'd established along with George Mitchell (who subsequently left to join the Obama administration).

The reaction from liberals was lukewarm, at best. And I shared the ambivalence. The plan's basic architecture was identical to the one Obama and his Democratic allies have been pushing--complete with the insurance exchange, subsidies, and mandates on both individuals and employers. But liberals (again, myself included) weren't thrilled with the minimum standards for coverage, which seemed a bit weaker than ideas floating around at the time. One reason was the total funding, which was just $1.2 trillion--not the $1.5 trillion that it would take to finance an even stronger benefit package, with more generous subsidies. In addition, the Center's proposal didn't have a strong public insurance option.

Fast forward a few months. Now it looks like we'll be lucky to get $900 billion, let alone $1.2 trillion, in outlays. The consumer protections and affordability assistance (that is, the subsidies to help people get insurance) almost certaily won't be as good as what the former Senators put forward. And the trigger option now getting so much attention probably won't be an improvement, either--although, like everything else in the health reform debate, the fluid political situation means it's impossible to know.

In short, if the Dole-Baker-Daschle proposal were on the table right now, a lot of liberals would take it in a heartbeat. (I certainly would.) And that's something liberals should keep in mind. They should fight as hard as they can, for the best possible plan; but they should be careful about ruling out compromises, because something available today might not be available tomorrow.

Of course, Republicans were't even less enthusiastic about the Dole-Baker-Daschle proposal. That's an object lesson, too--a lesson in who's really responsible for the death of bipartisanship. But you can read about that in my new article from the print edition.