We've played this game long enough, liberals have gone beyond compromise well into capitulation. Anyone with a brain - which immediately eliminates birthers, deathers, tea party corporate whores and the 47% of Republicans that don't think America was once a part of Pangea - knew from the outset that the GOP wasn't going to support any degree of health care reform.
It wouldn't matter if the reform bill was 50% tax cuts for billionaires and 49% bulk grants directly to the health insurance companies, while also declaring evolution to be a farce, socialists and gays and atheists to be demons, and that kittens are hugely awesome, it still wouldn't get their support.
It's not about health care reform to them, and it's not like we didn't know that already. Republicans didn't merely break the old record for filibusters in the Senate from 2007 through 2008, they doubled the old record. This agenda of absolute obstruction didn't materialize out of thin air, conservatives have been perfecting it for over two years and it's clear that they are far more talented at fighting against the will of the American people than they are at governing.
The public option, while nice, is not actually the best plan for reform. And don't think down, think up. Single-payer was never seriously considered because universal opposition from Republicans was a given. A government run health care plan like the hugely popular Medicare and the obviously successful plans for the military is in fact a compromise by Democrats to give ground to Republicans, only it didn't work.
And it didn't work for a lot of reasons. Bullies don't compromise, for one, but also because in order to bargain down as opposed to simply being dictated to, you have to begin with a strong hand. Democrats didn't begin by putting single-payer in play, so now it looks like the supposedly strong chip - the public option - will have to go in order to get down to something the GOP will accept.
Except for the fact that we already knew that the GOP would never accept anything at all, and we know that over two years ago.
We can change this game by acting strongly instead of just pretending to be strong.
This war can be fought on two fronts, first in Congress, where all current health care reform bills should be shredded so that we can begin anew. The last time I checked, this session of Congress has another year and a half left, so there's no rush. The only job these people have is doing this, it's not like we're keeping them from more important work here. Step one in proper reform is stating as a matter of fact that health care reform will take as long as it will take.
Creating artificial deadlines only gives the opposition an idea of how long they have to engage in obstruction before they'll win by default. If Republicans honestly believed that Democrats would continue fighting for good health care reform right up to and well past elections, they might think twice about about how they play.
If we have to start over and continue this mess for another two months, then fine, we'll do it for two more months. If it takes until the middle of next year, fine, it's not like Congressmen have anything else they are supposed to be doing.
This is their job, this is what we pay them to do for us.
With a clean slate established, the next prudent step would be creating a statement of principals as a guide to the various committees to begin their work. The number one priority on that list should be single-payer. No bill will be accepted out of any committee that doesn't begin with single payer. This will be the only legislative agenda to begin with. The ultimate goal will be to finish a bill that satisfies the statement of principals that will be voted on by the full House and Senate.
If it fails, fine. I don't care if it takes six months and ends up failing on final votes, this is how you start strong. You come within 2-3 votes in the Senate and a couple of dozen in the House, and scare the living shit out of Republicans. Show the American people that their faith in the Democratic party on health care is justified, that we're not afraid to fail and not prepared to surrender when the going gets tough. If they get within a few inches, Democrats can campaign on it in 2010. Give us a couple of more votes and we'll take it to the house.
Create strength from weakness, take the opportunities that present themselves.
Or, if need be, with Republicans knowing they are still vulnerable with little time left until the next election and absolutely zero legislative victories on the scoreboard, they'll be under significant pressure to compromise and pass the public option.
Let them choke on it for once, let them give ground.
The second front will come from the White House, which will immediately announce that it will not sign any bill that doesn't include single-payer. It'll be a token threat, though, since single-payer probably wont pass, but it doesn't have to pass in order to serve its purpose.
The statement will give strength to an extremely weak and incompetent Democratic Majority leader to force Republicans to vote on bills that will weaken them at home. I can't compromise anymore, he'll say truthfully, because the White House wont accept anything less than true reform.
The threat of reconciliation will loom large if Republicans don't play ball. The power to use it has already been established, and strategies have been suggested. Anything that doesn't fit under the rules of reconciliation can be stripped out. The appropriate parts can pass with a 51 vote majority while the rest can be attached as a rider to legislation that can't be filibustered, like defense spending bills.
President Obama can personally apply pressure to the Bush Dogs instead of the progressives. Representing conservative districts means a balancing act, but what chance would the Bush Dogs stand to get reelected in an off-year with a President who is still largely popular with Democratic voters - for now - fighting against them?
How much better would they fair if they had President Obama on their side?
If Republicans think that a public option is socialism that will destroy this country, their heads would explode if single-payer was put on the table. Pressure to flush out the crazies could be applied in the form of stunt votes. Don't like socialized medicine? Bring up a bill that repeals Medicare, but not for two or three months. Actual statements by Republicans will be quoted in the text of the bill, with their names attached in all caps and bold.
Democrats can spend two straight months blaming the bill on Republicans -- saying they want it, not us, we're just being bipartisan! - and demanding that seniors either apply pressure to the GOP for reform, or Democrats will have no choice but to help the GOP fight against socialism.
And they'll begin by wiping out Medicare.
Votes on Medicare and single-payer will be the first in a long line, Democrats will take every hot button issue that Republicans like to use to fan blames but don't actually want to touch, and bring them up for a vote. English as the national language is a big one that the GOP loves to hold over Democrats, so why not call the bluff? Republicans have been losing Hispanics at historic rates - only 3% of Hispanics hold a favorable view of the GOP today.
Can they dare to lose the remaining few? Do they want to alienate the ones that already don't like them for the next decade instead of the next couple of years?
There are so few Republicans in the Senate that even if they all voted for it, they'd still lose. If they all vote yes, it hurts them with Hispanics and Democrats win, since it wouldn't pass. If Republicans vote no, they lose the issue and Democrats win. Republicans will try hard but lose a few and start asking themselves how many more blows do they want to take before caving.
And Republicans could expect literally hundreds of these votes if single-payer fails.
Or they could compromise on the public option.
Of course this would require a President with balls which we do not have, and a Democratic party willing to fight for a win instead of settling for a condescending pat on the head from Republicans for caving to the tiny-right, which isn't known to exist in the natural world.
Democrats could get everything they want and they could do it today, if only they had some balls.