A Lesson From An Otherwise Useless Graduate Education

There’s been a lot of talk about the Progressive Block strategy, which states that progressives should team up and threaten to spike a bill if doesn’t meet their minimum demands, because using such a strategy appears close to delivering a much improved health care bill. But, obviously such a strategy can kill a good bill based on the false belief that you can get a better deal in the future.

So when should Progressives start drawing lines in the sand? If you’re very sure you can get a better deal tomorrow then do it. But nobody ever agrees what the future will look like, so one answer to the question is to focus on the consequences of non-agreement. Low consequences of non-agreement are why global trades take decades to negotiate.

In Congress some members of Congress are fine with the policy status quo and aren’t real concerned with pissing off their leadership, but in the case of health care there is a lot of sensitivity to both issues. Everybody knows the status quo on health care is awful and failure to move a reform package would a huge failure for the leadership and the party. No Democrat, regardless of ideology, wants to go back to the drawing board on the Democratic Party’s number 1 priority.
Under these circumstances playing hardball is the right move, since non-agreement is something all relevant players strongly want to avoid. But this isn’t the case on every other issue. On Climate Change there is a strong desire to limit how much you piss off Nancy Pelosi, but no particular commitment from Conservative Democrats to see any climate bill passed into law. It’s possible a Progressive Block strategy would work, but it’s also possible it would torpedo the bill and accomplish nothing.

It’s always going to be somewhat hard to gauge the consequences of non-agreement, the leadership never wants to fail and rarely does when they have the kind of vote margins that exist currently and it’s pretty unusual (although not unheard of) to admit you’d be ok with a bill you voted for not becoming law. In cases like health care reform, where failed reform and election catastrophe are closely linked, there’s every reason to play hard ball.

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