Anyone who wants any kind of reform in this country need to grapple with Ezra Klein’s important and clearly argued insight into our current system of “government”:
The U.S. Congress is hostile not only to liberal power, but also to conservative power, and for that matter, to majority governance. The rules trump the election, trump the organizing, trump the 50-plus senators in support of the public option, trump all of it. Liberals will never have 70 votes in the Senate, and, in a useful symmetry for the purposes of coalition building, nor will conservatives, and nor, it seems, will people who want to make hard decisions to solve pressing problems. The story of the public option — and of the preservation of employer-based health care, and the insufficient cost controls, and the protection of providers, and all the rest — isn’t just a story for liberals. It’s a story about our system of governance and its inability to respond to problems even when you stack the deck in change’s favor.
That’s why the focus of this blog has shifted somewhat. The first problem for people who care about policy outcomes — regardless of which direction they care about those outcomes from — is that the Congress has developed an overwhelming bias toward inaction and the status quo. It is much stronger now than it has been in the past, and it’s exacerbated because we are much more divided now than we have been in the past. The answer to the systemic dysfunction on display in the health-care reform debate does not lie elsewhere in the health-care reform debate. For now, you get the best bill you can given the constraints we have. But seeing those constraints clearly is, I think, a step forward, because it’s a useful guide to where we need to go next.
On the one hand, while we’re all disenchanted with Obama to some degree or another, we need to make sure our ire is properly targeted. On the other hand, it’s not clear what that target really should be. Yes, the Senate proves time and time again that, on subjects as wide ranging as food safety, agriculture, the environment, climate change, public health, and toxic chemicals, it is nothing else but the Bermuda Triangle of reform. Yet yelling “Senator, reform thyself!” isn’t much more than hope, which is to say, it isn’t a plan. Institutional reform is hard and, as far as the Senate is concerned, some say it’s impossible. After all, we’re asking over 50 Senators to relinquish powers that they’ve spent something like 40 years accruing. Not a happy thought, certainly, but it’s one we can no longer ignore. This means, I think, a need to spend less time second-guessing President Obama’s or Sen. Harry Reid’s legislative strategy and, sadly, less time on ambitious legislative agendas. Where every inch of reform on the federal level represents its opponents’ Rubicon, we’re simply going to have to make due with inches instead of miles.