Iowa conservatives are becoming increasingly concerned by Senator Chuck Grassley's refusal to "just say no" to President Obama's health care reform plans. Grassley is part of a group of six Senate Finance Committee members who are working on a compromise bill. While some Republicans are hoping that defeating health care reform will become Obama's "Waterloo," Grassley has warned Republicans should could pay a price for blocking reform.
The longer Sen. Grassley strings along Iowa Republicans, the more difficult his re-election effort may become. At the beginning of the year, it would have been absurd to suggest that Sen. Grassley could face a legitimate primary challenge. Now, with each and every passing day that Grassley flirts with supporting some version of health care reform, the possibility of a primary challenge grows. In fact, some Republican sources have told TheIowaRepublican.com that if Sen. Grassley votes for President Obama's healthcare proposal, Grassley will indeed face a serious primary challenge.
Republicans needn't worry about the game Grassley is playing on health care. I'll explain why after the jump.
If Grassley had ruled out voting for health care reform, as many Iowa Republicans wanted, the Senate might have given up on bipartisan negotiations months ago. Democrats might have been able to pass a bill before the August recess, as the president wanted. Instead, in a body with 60 Democrats, Grassley has managed to hold up the bill until three centrist Democrats can reach agreement with two conservative Republicans and a moderate. This group of six excludes all Democrats who support a strong public health insurance option, including Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee's subcommittee on health care. I agree with Rockefeller's assessment of what's going on:
Changes to the bill have been frustrating, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) told reporters at a press conference, particularly given that the Republicans -- Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Olympia Snowe of Maine -- are, in his opinion, just stalling for time.
"You just watch as the bill diminishes in its scope, in its coverage, in its ferocity to try to attack the problem. I don't know where it will come out," Rockefeller said. "My own personal view is that those three Republicans won't be there to vote it out of committee when it comes right down to it, so that this all will have been a three-or-four-month delay game, which is exactly what the Republicans want."
Iowa Republicans are taking Grassley at his word when he says he wants a bipartisan health care bill. It seems far more likely that he is working to move the health care bill as far to the right as possible, removing any effective public health insurance option, before he votes against the final version of the bill. Bought-and-paid-for Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is going along with Grassley, which is no surprise. It's depressing that the White House hasn't pulled the plug on the group of six negotiations, desperate as they are to achieve a bipartisan agreement.
If Grassley were serious about helping pass health care reform, he wouldn't be falsely claiming that cancer patients like Senator Ted Kennedy would be worse off with a public health insurance plan.
On the contrary, Grassley keeps making excuses for holding up the process, telling The Hill this week that Obama "didn't serve in government long enough to understand really how things work."
Daily Kos user The Bagof Health and Politics published a diary with more links and analysis supporting Rockefeller's view:
Grassley and Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi have sought to appear supportive of health care reform by merely staying at the table. Every time they get close to a deal between members of the Secretive Six, Grassley and Enzi back out, claiming they are being rushed. Enzi even went as far as to demand that the President and the Speaker of the House completely respect the back room deals of the Secretive Six, and agree not to alter any deal that may emerge from Secretive Six's committee.
Earlier this week, Max Baucus agreed to impose a deadline of September 15th for the Secretive Six's talks. Baucus said that if no deal is reached by September 15th, he will move forward--with or without the votes of Grassley and Enzi. For their part, Grassley and Enzi insist that there is no deadline, and that health care talks can go on indefinitely.
Of course, what this is really about is stopping health care reform.
October 15 is the deadline for getting health care reform passed as part of the budget reconciliation process, which would allow Democrats to pass a bill with 51 votes (or 50, with Vice President Joe Biden breaking the tie). If Congress misses that deadline, then a health care bill will need to go through the normal Senate process, requiring 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.
That scenario is win-win for Republicans. Either Democrats are unable to pass a bill, and Obama's presidency is seriously damaged, or Democrats are forced to pass a convoluted, expensive bill with a fake public option in order to get to 60 votes in the Senate. That won't solve the current problems with our health care system and will reinforce claims that Democrats are incompetent.
As much as I would love to see Grassley get a serious primary challenger, I am convinced that Iowa Republicans should be thanking Grassley instead of griping about his involvement in the health care debate.