In its efforts to pass a health reform plan this year, the Obama Administration has signaled a willingness to compromise with conservatives twice this week.
- The Administration may replace medical malpractice with binding arbitration through what Sen. Max Baucus calls "health courts." Trial lawyers are howling.
- The President has signaled he is open to taxing health benefits, something he criticized when former rival Sen. John McCain proposed it last year.
The question is whether conservatives will now go along, or call compromise hypocrisy.
So far signs point to no.
We are starting to see a pattern in how the Administration approaches policy. Leak a possible compromise so that you can pull it back if those on the other side don't respond.
With Republicans demanding a 60-vote Senate majority to pass anything, it would seem that compromise is essential, even assuming Democrats get a 59th seat in Minnesota. The President has also expressed interest in making certain the final bill is bipartisan.
But this program of leaks makes all compromises conditional. Unless Republicans come up with substantial support for a final passage, the Administration still has the ability to move left and hammer them down, even using the budget reconciliation process to guarantee only a majority is needed.
Liberal activists are just starting to catch on to the game. As Franklin Roosevelt said two generations ago, "I want to do it. Now make me do it."
The cacophony over health care reform, in other words, is only going to get louder before any deal gets done. The President may be an orchestra leader but he is not playing all the instruments.