President Obama is once again suggesting that he's seeking a bipartisan compromise on a major policy issue:
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, recalled how Mr. Obama made a personal pledge of bipartisanship when he and Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the committee’s Democratic chairman, joined the president for a private lunch at the White House last month.
“I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a problem,’ ” Mr. Grassley said of the public plan, “and he said something along the lines of, ‘If I get 85 percent of what I want with a bipartisan vote, or 100 percent with 51 votes, all Democrat, I’d rather have it be bipartisan.’ ”
No one -- and certainly not Grassley -- should take this especially seriously despite Obama's history of goo-goo rhetoric.
Consider the example of the stimulus. The White House put out word it wanted 80 votes for the bill, but in the end they peeled off just three Republicans, one more than the minimum necessary to defeat a filibuster, and called it a day. Getting more GOP votes might have been possible, but it would have required Obama to make painful compromises on policy for purely aesthetic reasons. Not surprisingly, he chose not to do so.
The same is likely to happen with health care. He'll pick up a few moderate Republicans, but not enough to create a truly bipartisan coalition (something that may not even be possible on such a salient partisan issue). At this point, I tend to agree with Jon Chait's unified theory of Obama -- this is positioning to make the Republicans look bad after the fact. When push comes to shove, Obama is no more willing than any other president to give up his policy priorities for the sake of bipartisanship.
Update 6/7 6:12 PM: In comments, Rob writes the following:
I don't entirely disagree with what Brendan says, but we should keep in mind that there is some political advantage to Obama in having the health care plan receive a significant number of Republican votes.
There's a high probability that a lot of people will be dissatisfied once the health care plan is in operation... If it's a totally Democratic plan, the Democrats may be a target of such popular dissatisfaction. If, on the other hand, the plan has been embraced by Republicans as well as Democrats, the Democrats may be able to escape paying a political price. Getting at least partial Republican support--enough to characterize the final result as a bipartisan plan--would be smart political insurance.
I agree that Obama has an incentive to try to characterize the plan as bipartisan for precisely this reason. My claim, however, is that the policy compromises required to create a truly bipartisan coalition are just too difficult to make when Obama doesn't actually need GOP votes. As I said above, it's therefore more likely that he'll pass the plan with the support of a few Republican moderates. At that point, he will probably claim that the vote was bipartisan, but I doubt the public will perceive it as such.