Commentary Magazine


Or They Could Start Over

Many conservatives have been arguing for a do-over on health care. Here comes a model for how to do it. The subject is different but the process is similar. Cap-and-trade has reached a dead end. There aren’t the votes in the Senate. The bill, which would impose huge mandates and enact a new energy tax, makes no sense in a recession. Sen. Richard Lugar says “enough”:

Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, met Tuesday with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, along with the panel’s chairman, John Kerry (D-Mass.), and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who are working to forge a bipartisan compromise on climate legislation.

Lugar said he welcomed the opportunity to discuss global warming, but he emphasized that his constituents are more focused on the economy and did not see the bill authored by Kerry and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as politically viable.

“I don’t see any climate bill on the table right now that I can support,” said Lugar, one of the half-dozen Republicans that Democrats are courting on the issue. “We really have to start from scratch again.”

In short, when a bill makes no sense substantively and hasn’t garnered wide support, just stop. Start over. Figure out limited reforms that won’t break the bank and won’t put Democrats in swing states at risk. In the end, there’ll be a big signing ceremony, the White House will get credit, and the opposition will be muted. Could work for cap-and-trade. And for health care.

Republicans, I suspect, are hoping that the ideologically consumed and hubris-ridden White House and Democratic Congress don’t figure this out. Right now, the GOP sees a win-win: either awful legislation collapses or it passes and becomes the target for 2010. Should the Democrats come to their senses, the win-win calculus would fail. But Republicans needn’t worry; common sense seems not to be in the offing.