The Madman Theory Of Political Bargaining
During the Cold War, Richard Nixon employed what was known as the Madman Theory. It posited that demonstrating a willingness to consider "madness" in action would provide you with negotiating leverage. It is not much different than any negotiating strategy really in that a party may demonstrate that it is willing to scorch the rhetorical Earth in order to gain concessions from your negotiation opponents. George Bush and Republicans often employed the "madman" theory of negotiations with Democrats. The "nuclear option" was coined as a result of the similarity to Nixon's strategies. And the use of the reconciliation process was key to the GOP negotiating strategy. Of course there was no controversy among the GOP and the Media regarding the GOP's use of these tactics. But Democrats handwring over it. Kevin Drum writes:
As you may know, there's a group of liberal Democrats in the House who are threatening to vote against any bill that doesn't include a public option. Obviously they're hoping that this threat will be enough to force the conference committee to include a public option in its final report.
But even if this works, no one thinks that such a bill can get 60 votes in the Senate. This means the only way to pass it would be via reconciliation.
So here's my question: supposing this happens, what are we likely to lose if we go down the reconciliation road? The basic rule is that anything that doesn't affect the budget is off limits and would have to be discarded, but in practice only an expert could tell us which provisions are likely to fall foul of the reconciliation rules. So who's an expert on this kind of thing? I don't have a clue. But before I decide what I think of this whole idea, I'd sure like to have a better sense of what I'm likely to get out of it. On one side, I lose the public option but the rest of the bill has a pretty good chance of passing. That's straightforward. On the other side, I get a bill that includes a public option but loses a bunch of other stuff that can't survive reconciliation. Like, say, community rating, which I suspect doesn't have enough budgetary impact to stay intact. Ditto for just about everything else that reforms the private sector insurance industry.
To be fair, Kevin is not handwringing over using these tactics, but rather over what might not survive the reconciliation process.
That said, Kevin makes a few mistakes here. The first of these is misunderstanding that the threat of reconciliation for the public option does not mean that reconciliation would necessarily be used. By having the threat, the idea is the Senate will become more pliable to a bill that includes a public option. Think how the "nuclear option" threat was used to ram through most of the judges Bush wanted. The nuclear option never happened but the THREAT of the nuclear option gave the GOP a tremendous advantage in the bargaining over Bush's judicial nominees.
Kevin's second mistake is in thinking that you need 60 aye votes to pass a public option. this is false. What you need is 60 votes for cloture and 50 aye votes. This is how the bankruptcy reform bill was passed in 2005.
Finally, the idea that Dems would be willing to go to the mat just to get a public option does not mean that a separate bill which would garner wider support could not happen. I think that Dems have the bargaining on this exactly backwards. Since most of the rest of the bill has wider support, getting it in a later bill would be much easier. But getting a public option almost certainly would not be gettable later. Showing a willingness to sacrifice more popular (in the Congress I mean) provisions now is simply smart bargaining. Much of that is already pocketed concessions. The key to the bargaining now is finding the way to get the harder parts through.
In the end, it amazes me how bad the Democrats are at bargaining. Say what you will about the Republicans, they know how to play this game in ways Democrats apparently can not even imagine.
Speaking for me only
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