I bear no particular grudge against Alice M. Rivlin. She appears to have led a fine life of public service, and, as discussed below, considers herself a “moderate Democrat.” She is the type of moderate Democrat who was a member of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission – and so I disagree strongly with some of her positions, but again have not really accrued any overwhelming reasons to dislike her. (Perhaps others here will educate me.)
Nonetheless, her recent Brookings column, “In defense of centrists,” did jump out at me as a perfect example of what is wrong with the modern Democratic Party leaders: (i) an inability to understand that the radicalism of the Republican Party makes the phrases, and philosophy, of “moderate” and “centrist” not just meaningless, but dangerous, and (ii) a self-defeating credo of compromise for compromise’s sake.
As an example of the purported benefits of appealing to Republican moderates, Ms. Rivlin writes:
Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose the Affordable Care Act (ACA) had been the product of a good-faith negotiation between Democrats and Republicans aimed at producing a bill that moderates in both parties could support. Moderate Republicans could have supported income related federal subsidies for households purchasing health insurance in electronic markets, but might have insisted on penalties for non-enrollment, rather than a mandate, a less generous benefit package, additional flexibility for states to adapt the program to their particular conditions, or less reliance on expanding Medicaid. Right wing Republicans would still have opposed any expansion of federal subsidies for health care, and left-wing Democrats who favor single payer might have dropped out as well. But a centrist compromise with the support of moderates in both parties could have provided broader, more stable increases in health insurance coverage than the ACA. Bipartisan buy-in would have allowed the parties to fix glitches in the law as experience revealed them and kept Republicans from demonizing Obamacare, misrepresenting its faults, preventing its improvement, and sabotaging its implementation.
What alternative universe (or “thought experiment”) is Ms. Rivlin living in? President Obama and the Democrats spent more than a year practically begging any so-called Republican “centrists” to join in this healthcare reform effort – and began the entire process by basing it on a Republican policy idea! I don't think I need to litter this post with hyper-link jumps to state the obvious: Republicans bitterly opposed even their own idea through Congress, through the Supreme Court, at the state level, through demagoguery, through election insults, and with continued legislative and regulatory sabotage to date. What Ms. Rivkin, and her Simpson-Bowles Democratic cohorts, refuse to recognize is that they have no negotiating partner in the modern Republican party. In addition, their need to consider themselves “centrists” or the “moderate middle” — in a time of increasing Republican radicalization — only moves the country closer to the Republicans’ rightward drift. Indeed, this is how we got 17 Democratic Senators voting to roll back the Dodd-Frank banking regulatory reforms under the guise of “centrism,” when such conduct would have been indistinguishable from Republicanism for all of my adult life.