The Madman Theory Of Political Bargaining: Part 3

Below, Jeralyn discusses the reports of a split bill on health care reform. On that issue, Matt Yglesias writes:

[I]ts a good idea. Still, it is worth emphasizing that no level of procedural cleverness can substitute for actual desire to pass legislation. If moderate Democratic senators just dont want to cast a yes vote in favor of progressive health legislation, this lets them have their way and still pass a good bill. But if Max Baucus and Kent Conrad are actually fanatically devoted to defending the interests of the for-profit health care industry, then he can find ways to make this not work.

(Emphasis supplied.) Matt is missing a key player in this bargaining - the Progressive Block in the House. If the Progressive Block stands firm in saying no to health care reform without a public option (meaning no vote on the non-public option half of this split without a vote on the public option half)) - if they demonstrate they will walk away, then Max Baucus and Kent Conrad do not have the only veto in this. Moreover, there is no reason for Baucus and Conrad to have such a veto anyway - reconciliation means just that - it takes 50 (plus Biden's tiebreaker.) Unless Baucus and Co. round up 11 Dem votes, they can't veto a thing.

My previous posts on the madman theory of political bargaining here and here.UPDATE - Kevin Drum explains the obvious to Ezra Klein - "the point is probably to protect centrist Democrats. They can vote against Bill #1 and for Bill #2 . . ."

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    slightly ot, but funny and spot on (5.00 / 10) (#4)
    by Dadler on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:01:08 AM EST
    from THE ONION (via Harper's):

    After months of committee meetings and hundreds of hours of heated debate, the United States Congress remained deadlocked this week over the best possible way to deny Americans health care.

    "Both parties understand that the current system is broken," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Monday. "But what we can't seem to agree upon is how to best keep it broken, while still ensuring that no elected official takes any political risk whatsoever. It's a very complicated issue."

    "Ultimately, though, it's our responsibility as lawmakers to put these differences aside and focus on refusing Americans the health care they deserve," Pelosi added.

    oops, forfot the link (none / 0) (#48)
    by Dadler on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:06:14 PM EST
    Great stuff (5.00 / 2) (#26)
    by Faust on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:03:37 PM EST
    I do love this blog.

    Light at end of the tunnel (5.00 / 2) (#27)
    by mmc9431 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:20:39 PM EST
    I get very aggravated at this mess in getting a health care bill passed. So I spent some time yesterday reading up on Johnson and the troubles that he had to overcome to get Medicare through.  It took a few tries before Johnson found the magic formula. But it did get done. And his opposition was just as nasty if not worse.

    It gives me hope that maybe something will eventually get done,

    Where's the Johnson in (none / 0) (#30)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:31:59 PM EST
    the current situation, though?  I don't see one.  It's certainly not Obama.  I think Pelosi actually comes closest, but that's not very close.

    Just think (5.00 / 2) (#31)
    by Steve M on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:40:42 PM EST
    if we had elected John Edwards, then we might really be looking around for the Johnson.

    I think (5.00 / 3) (#39)
    by jbindc on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    Rielle already found it.

    ROTFL (none / 0) (#50)
    by shoephone on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:21:18 PM EST
    Time will tell (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by mmc9431 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:41:15 PM EST
    Sad but true, we'll have to see if Obama finds the "Johnson" in himself. I still have hope that his ego will eventually force him to rise to the ocassion. Failure isn't the legacy he wants to leave.

    Keep calling it "Obamacare" (5.00 / 1) (#35)
    by Fabian on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:51:06 PM EST
    That way Obama will have at least one good reason to make sure any health care bill won't be a stinking mess.

    This is Obama's baby! (5.00 / 3) (#37)
    by mmc9431 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:01:46 PM EST
    Obama will own this no matter what happens! Actually if it a good to decent bill, I'd go along with putting Ted Kennedy's name on it. I can't think of anyone in DC that has put more time or effort into bringing this about. (But no if it's a stinker!)

    Well (5.00 / 2) (#40)
    by jbindc on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:06:14 PM EST
    The R's ALWAYS refer to it already as Obamacare - whatever comes out is going to be Obama's baby, whether it's good or not.

    I think the devil will be in the details (5.00 / 4) (#33)
    by cawaltz on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:45:10 PM EST
    I still don't think what has been proposed as a public plan is any good. I wish I could say that I had faith that it will get stronger rather than weaker with this algorithym but I'm not as convinced as some here.

    Can someone explain to me (5.00 / 3) (#36)
    by cawaltz on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:54:56 PM EST
    real slowlike how mandating people buy health insurance from the private insurers is "sticking it to the mean insurance companies" as suggested in bill 2? Particularly, if you go out of your way to vote against a government option. I just don't see how these centrists are going to be able to claim that in the win column not without making the mandate completely wishy washy by allowing alot of exceptions.

    It's not (5.00 / 4) (#38)
    by waldenpond on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:02:58 PM EST
    It's not mean to the Corporacrats.  It's a giveaway.  The insurers support the mandate... they get the young and healthy to profit off of.  They don't support the public option.  

    It looks like I will get taxed on my current benefits, UHC is fighting for a 65/35 split and that money goes to the Corporacrats directly and through subsidies.  I don't mind paying more... I want it to go to health CARE not health insurance.

    It was disappointing to hear the religious leaders come out and say 'coverage' was the most important thing.  I'm frankly sick of the 'insurance' reform meme.

    I would like to see someone rationally explain how forcing everyone in to a corrupt health insurance industry is going to lower the cost of health care.


    Not "lower cost" (none / 0) (#44)
    by hookfan on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:31:38 PM EST
    unless one means "slow the rate of increase" for. . . choose your category. It won't be a saving for those over 50. I don't believe it does anything to lower the rising costs of actual medical care expenses that are out of control. There is no attempt to prevent rise in premium rates. So even if one gets lucky enough to have lowered initial premiums, they won't stay that way. Are your wages going to keep up? And any estimates of premium costs based on costs now, will only be invalid for what you will be paying in 2013 when it all bbbbbbbbbbbegins.(stutter intended). What's the flexibility on deductibles? Who knows. Sure, one will be able to buy junk insurance that won't adequately cover the rising costs of actual care, just like now. But what good does that actually do in reducing the disasters that happen to people who are struck with major illness? Nada. You'll still go bankrupt. But you'll be mandated to pay the insurance companies for the ride.
       By the way, anyone see any estimates for the premium prices one would pay to get the same coverage as a congressman? I would really like to know.

    As to your last question (none / 0) (#45)
    by waldenpond on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:45:05 PM EST
    On average, Congress pays less than average and gets more coverage.  Which is to be expected with a large and powerful pool in a given market.

    They pay less not because (5.00 / 3) (#49)
    by Anne on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:07:28 PM EST
    of the large and powerful pool, but because Uncle Sam chips in up to 70% of the cost; as a federal employee, one gets to choose from the same private group plans from the same private insurers as the rest of us do.  

    How much coverage the federal employee gets is dependent on which plan he or she can afford, even with the federal subsidy.

    It grates on my ears every time I hear someone refer to "the same plan Congress has," because it is not one really great and cheap government plan, which that phrase leads people to believe it is.


    Obama used that phrase today (5.00 / 3) (#53)
    by Cream City on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:31:34 PM EST
    on the conservative talk radio show.  So your info is interesting.  He says that he just wants every American to have what Congress has.

    So at least we can at least start to calculate the cost:  As much as 70 percent of the cost of insuring every American.  Not just the uninsured among us; every American.  No wonder people are screaming.  Isn't there a better way to put it?!


    Here's something I found that (none / 0) (#58)
    by Anne on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 04:03:54 PM EST
    might be of interest - couldn't copy the first part of the "Background" section (page 4 of the report), but as of 2007, the government was subsidizing an average of 72%, up to 75% of the premiums - by statute.

    FEHBP Premiums

    Yes, there is power in numbers, which is exactly the argument to be made for single-payer, or for a public option that would be open to everyone.


    The government is the employer though (5.00 / 1) (#56)
    by ruffian on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 03:03:27 PM EST
    That is the way it is federally subsidized. It is an employee benefit.

    Now one way to save money in the fed budget that could then be used to provide coverage for the poor would be to cut the benefit for federal employees, to, say, pay 60% of their premiums. I'd expect some howling about that though.


    Employer Subsidy (none / 0) (#55)
    by waldenpond on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:48:16 PM EST
    My insurance is also subsidized by an employer.  We do not have the bargaining power a larger group does no matter how subsidized.

    Well (none / 0) (#51)
    by cawaltz on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:23:51 PM EST
    hypothetically the "tax" is in the less wildly popular bill as well as the subsidies. The one which is more difficult to pass(and that the cetrists would be voting against).

    As I said upthread I think the devil will be in the details.


    Hey! Fairy dust don't need no facts (none / 0) (#41)
    by hookfan on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:06:38 PM EST
    Hmmm ... (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by Robot Porter on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:19:49 PM EST
    From Drum:

    The second would go through the normal process and therefore need 60 votes, but since it includes the stuff that's widely popular it would pass anyway.

    This section includes mandates and fines.  Are those widely popular?

    It's also unclear whether either section would include a public option.  And, if so, which.

    People are being rolled by the WSJ.  I don't think the bill splitting idea is being as seriously considered as the article suggests.  I don't believe the unnamed sources contributing to that article want health care passed.  And I certainly don't think they want a public option.

    Mandates and fines (5.00 / 2) (#46)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:51:56 PM EST
    are wildly popular, yes-- among the pols and the ins. cos. The object being to force healthy people who are currently uninsured into the pool.  This big bonanza of extra revenue for the ins cos then makes it acceptable to require them to cover preexisting conditions, stop rescission, and the like.

    I would like to hear form someone else (none / 0) (#1)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 10:55:45 AM EST
    who knows just how difficult it really is to filibuster a conference report. If the discussion we had yesterday is correct, then there is no need to use reconciliation.

    I actually think (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:01:01 AM EST
    splitting the bill is a concession to the Blue Dog Senators, so they can vote against the public option.

    But that is a concession that costs us nothing.

    I support it.  


    Hmm (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:22:59 AM EST
    I think you do not understand the process here.

    Reconciliation is not subject to filibuster.


    That's actually the point (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:00:12 PM EST
    of the split bill.

    If you are not assuming that, then there is no purpose to splitting the bill.


    The WSJ report has ... (5.00 / 1) (#29)
    by Robot Porter on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:29:55 PM EST
    the "public option" as a POSSIBLE part of one of the halves.  And they're not even sure which half it would go in.

    So you may see it as the purpose of splitting the bill.  I'm not convinced that's what those advocating a split want.


    But all the items in the reconciliation bill (none / 0) (#20)
    by steviez314 on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:30:16 AM EST
    may be subject to the Byrd Rule.  It's up to Reid and the parlimentarian to determine that the public option is not extraneous to the budget process.

    Until I see Harry Reid's x-rays, I'm not convinced he has a spine.


    It's not even a close call (none / 0) (#21)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:38:58 AM EST
    Grassley employing his own (5.00 / 2) (#42)
    by MO Blue on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 01:17:02 PM EST
    "madman theory" . According to Grassley, If Obama Doesn't Publicly Renounce Public Option Now, He's Not Truly Interested In Bipartisanship. Oh, and BTW, Dem legislation now needs 80 votes.

    On Wednesday, he denied those claims and fired back at Obama, saying the president should publicly state his willingness to sign a bill without a controversial government-run insurance plan. Such a statement, he said, is "pretty important . . . if you're really interested in a bipartisan bill."

    "It's not about getting a lot of Republicans. It's about getting a lot of Democrats and Republicans," Grassley said. "We ought to be focusing on getting 80 votes."  WaPo

    Heh (5.00 / 1) (#52)
    by cawaltz on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:27:18 PM EST
    cuz' that was the benchmark when they were in charge. Grassley is quite funny. If he loses his job as Congressperson, he should try for a position as stand up comedian.

    Hey, whatever works (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:03:32 AM EST
    It just seems unnecessarily complicated to me. The blue dogs could just as easily vote against the conference report.

    Greasing the track for (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:06:01 AM EST
    Blue Dog Senators, that costs you nothing, seems a pretty smart approach. You'll need them in the future.

    Especially if it gets us (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:07:42 AM EST
    the Ways and Means public option.

    Precisely (none / 0) (#12)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:08:27 AM EST
    Everybody wins.

    Um (none / 0) (#2)
    by Steve M on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:00:25 AM EST
    There are no guarantees whatsoever about what emerges from conference.  Far safer to use reconciliation if the plan will work; "no need" is an overconfident assertion.

    I think (5.00 / 2) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:04:53 AM EST
    that if the Progressive Block holds firm, you cna assure the conference report will have it, but there is no need to not give the Blue Dog Senators a sop - this actually gives you a cahnce to strengthen the public option. You are now negotiating with 50 Dem Senators, not with Republicans, or Baucus, Conrad, Dorgan, Landrieu, Lincoln, Pryor, Hagen, Lieberman or Ben Nelson.

    The conservative end of this voting bloc becomes McCaskill, Warner, Webb and Tester.

    They can be brought along.  


    Disagree, (none / 0) (#5)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:02:43 AM EST
    The Democrats have the power to determine exactly what emerges from conference. And it seems to me that a conference report is a more straightforward way of dealing with this problem. (a la Medicare part D).

    However, I'm not opposed to this method if it can be made to work.


    "The Democrats" (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Steve M on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:04:01 AM EST
    are not a unitary, single-minded bloc.  You might as well say that "the Democrats" have the power to pass anything with 60 votes in the Senate.

    Let me be more explicit (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:06:46 AM EST
    The conference report gets whatever Pelosi and Reid want. You think they will be unable to come up with an acceptable (i.e. the President's) bill?

    They're in the minority in both chambers (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:18:42 AM EST
    They are irrelevant.

    I know you are describing how it ought to be (none / 0) (#47)
    by ruffian on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:03:21 PM EST
    and how it is theoretically. In practice, I don't agree that Harry Reid or Barack Obama are going jam anything through without consensus. Some of the Senate Dems are just as adamant as the Republicans about the public option, effectively shrinking, if not eliminating,  the majority.

    I do hope you are right though.


    andgarden (5.00 / 3) (#15)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:19:36 AM EST
    Thank you for being patient and clear educating on all of this.  Thank you so much to everyone explaining and outlining procedure.  I'm more hopeful now.  And if I get screwed I know exactly who is to blame on all fronts, that is incredibly important so thanks.

    Ach, I start in the dark just the same (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by andgarden on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:21:29 AM EST
    as everyone else. I just tend to ask "why do it this way?"

    But you have (5.00 / 2) (#28)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 12:28:00 PM EST
    the patience to sort it all out, which many of us (including me) lack.

    Um yeah? (none / 0) (#16)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 11:21:24 AM EST
    It's always been that way, and with good reason - the majority won the election.

    In Obama's words today (none / 0) (#54)
    by Dadler on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 02:45:53 PM EST
    "I know that there is this perception that somehow we have engaged in these extraordinary interventions," Obama said, but the federal government's bailouts for banks and the auto industry were prompted by the worst economic situation in decades.

    "As far as healthcare goes . . . I would love the private marketplace to be handling this without any government intervention," the president said. "The problem is, it's not working. . . .

    "All we've said is, let's keep the private health system intact," he said, but also ensure that millions who are uninsured can find coverage.


    So (none / 0) (#57)
    by hookfan on Thu Aug 20, 2009 at 03:22:19 PM EST
     those giveaways were prompted by very bad economic conditions, while this giveaway is not. My but he's flexible with giveaways, isn't he?

    Madman theory (none / 0) (#59)
    by urban legend on Fri Aug 21, 2009 at 12:45:08 AM EST
    Considering Starr's comment about importance of getting public option right for it to have the cost-constraining effect we want, we should consider splitting the bill, passing the first in a flash -- like the day of the return from recess for the most dramatic impact -- and then focusing on the public option as important to keep insurance companies in check. Introduce a public option bill and vote it out of committee on the same day. Get it out from under all the garbage thrown up against the rest of the bill -- by itself it's an easier sell. Then the pressure on the Blue Dogs and Republicans will be even more intense, with the possibility of a filibuster-proof majority, since the huge majority of Americans would vastly prefer "socialism" over their friendly insurance giant. There is nothing that says the two things need to be passed in the same bill.