Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Negotiation 101.

Its too late to say this, but it bears repeating: we are where we are on Health Care Reform because the White House doesn't understand how negotiations work. They wanted the backing of Pharma and of the Insurance Companies during the next election cycle. They wanted that money, in other words, to run Democratic candidates and they didn't want that money going to Republican candidates. In addition, they wanted some of that corporate money to go into advertising to actually support the bill as it came time to get the votes. So Obama and Rahm thought they could use Corporate money to do the work that the grassroots could have done, and would have done, for free.

That wasn't a stupid decision. In fact, it might have been quite clever. But in order to get the deal they wound up losing their political shirts because they worked backwards. As far as we know they agreed to use Congress and the Bill Making process as a bargaining chip to be bargained *away* instead of as a threat to induce compliance. What I mean is that they offered to squelch real reform--drug reimportation, the public option, etc...etc...etc... in return for a promise of funds to be disbursed later instead of pushing for the most drastically radical bill they could get and then backing off it. Similarly, Obama and Rahm preferred to keep the grassroots quiet as a gift to the deal making process, instead of using populism as a tool to force the best bargain. Instead of activating their own voters and pressuring Pharmaetc with popular rage and populist demands O and R told the most progressive members of the coalition--MoveOn for example and the Unions, to keep their mouths shut.

This violated what I'm sure are well known rules of bargaining--I myself only know what I picked up bargaining for rugs in a Nepali bazaar.* If I'd been Rahm and Obama I would have done things in exactly the opposite fashion: whip up popular anger, create a groundswell for major progressive reform, and *then* go to individual Senators and the Pharmaetc... and say:

"I don't think we can restrain the House and the Senate from going all out and demanding Single Payer and a cap on Drug prices. Its going to happen unless you back a very strong but slightly less perfectly liberal bill. And I mean back it. To the hilt. All your bought and paid for Senators are going to have to toe the party line on this or its going to be much, much, much worse than you can imagine."

And then, instead of putting all those things off the table, as Obama did, and squelching progressive amendments and moves in the House, as Rahm did, Obama and Rahm should have gone to the Blue Dogs and insisted on party loyalty on the best, most progressive, health care bill imaginable. At that point they could have gone back to Pharmaetc and offered to shave off a little here or there.

The same is true for the way the White House handled individual Senators. If the Manager's Bill that Reid put forward had been ten times stronger when Lieberman and Nelson kicked up their hissy fits there would have been tons of fat to trim. As it is the Bill doesn't contain enough liberal goodies for any shaving of the edges to be less than harmful.

Enter Howard Dean, Reconciliation, and the Public Option/Medicare Buy In. In an ideal world the White House would recognize that having Howard Dean out there demanding the bill be killed is good for negotiations with Lieberman and Nelson. Why? Because Lieberman and Nelson either want to kill the bill (in which case they will do it anyway, regardless of Dean) or they want to vote for the bill after gutting it and represent themselves as saviors--in which case every time Dean and the House act like they are the deciders and not Lieberman or Nelson L and N will move closer to an accommodation. This is why Progressives begged Reid not to take Reconciliation off the table at the start. Reconciliation, which removes Lieberman's pivotal position, should always have been kept as the stick to render Lieberman's filibuster meaningless. So when Howard Dean and the Progressives say they won't support the bill you don't say "they are irrelevant"--you say "Oh, this is terrible! We won't be able to restrain our wild eyed left wing flank. What can you, Lieberman and Pharma and the Insurance Companies do to buy them off and make them accept this bill with its mandates and 30 million new customers?"

I have no objection to Obama running against us DFH's, in Digby's felicitious term. That's what he would do if he wanted to get to a seriously progressive Health Care Reform Act. Because only when he can say to Pharmaetc, also known as Joe Lieberman's masters, that Obamacare is the only bulwark between them and the pitchforks can he get a good bill. Needless to say the same went double for the bailouts--I have no problem bailing out the banks but it ought always to have been done with the understanding that regulation would be the price the bankers would have to pay for not being strung up by their guts on the nearest lamp post.

Here endeth the lesson.


*For instance, if you want a small blue rug go into the shop and ask to see all the red rugs with green backgrounds, in large size. After they've shown you fifty of those rugs, each of which is not perfect, let them start showing you others until they get down to the one that is farthest in style and color from where you started, and they are completely demoralized and desperate to make the sale. During this time the price will have been dropping, and they will have become more and more invested in selling you something. Finally, just before you walk out, as a gesture of pity, allow them to sell you the rug you wanted in the first place, at the lowest price. It will be the lowest price because, as you will have pointed out to them, its not what you really wanted, its the wrong size and color, and you feel bad about wasting their time otherwise.

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