Yes, say Jonathan Chait and David Frum, in pre-mortems for the G.O.P.’s efforts to derail the Democratic bill. Chait argues that the Republicans could have sold moderate Democrats on a “vastly more limited” piece of legislation, if they’d been willing to compromise early in the process. Instead, by uniting in lockstep opposition and gambling that the difficulties of getting to sixty would doom the Democratic effort, the G.O.P. has ensured that “they’ll walk away with nothing.” Frum, meanwhile, suggests that Republicans placed too much rhetorical emphasis on “the freedom of healthcare providers to do business in their own way, free of government interference,” and not enough emphasis on holding the line on costs. By fearmongering about death panels and attacking Medicare cuts, he argues, the G.O.P. riled up its ideological base but failed to rally “the institutional supporters of the Republican party, the taxpayers, small business owners and corporate leaders” who care about cost control.
I’m not sure either critique is right. I would like to live in a world where Republicans had come to the negotiating table bearing a cost-controlling, insurance-expanding health care proposal, instead of just offering weak-tea alternatives or nothing at all. But given the ambitions of liberals (visible this week in the revolt over the public option) and the design of the legislation, I’m skeptical that they could have actually negotiated their way to something “vastly more limited,” in Chait’s words. As many liberal pundits have argued, the current health care bill is a package deal: If you regulate insurers then you need to have a mandate to buy insurance, if you need a mandate you need subsidies, and if the subsidies aren’t high enough either insurers or voters are going to revolt … and so the next thing you know, you’re at $800 billion and counting. To get something much more affordable, you wouldn’t just need to persuade the Democrats to shave a few hundred billion off the price tag; you’d have to persuade them to take a radically different approach. And I doubt that was ever going to happen.