Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein commends Mitch Daniels for acting like a governor and criticizes Mitch McConnell for acting like a leader of the opposition. He somehow thinks that if only Daniels were the Republican leader in the Senate instead of McConnell, the health-care debate would have been completely different, and Republicans would have gotten the Democrats to reform Medicare, include Health Savings Accounts in their bill, adopt John McCain’s 2008 health-care proposal, and push tort reform. Oh, “and, of course, they could have taken the ‘public option’ off the Senate table, once and for all.” Of course.
While I certainly agree with much of Pearlstein’s praise for Daniels, the overall case he makes is just ridiculous. A Senate minority leader with only forty votes to work with, confronted with a bill that most of his caucus (not to mention a growing portion of the electorate) finds profoundly misguided and beyond repair, should do all he can to prevent its passage. Republicans on the Hill have offered alternatives and made arguments for a number of different paths to health-care reform, but the Democrats have large majorities in both houses of Congress and have ignored them. The notion that a different Republican leader would have gotten massive concessions and a completely different (and quite conservative) approach to health care out of Reid, Pelosi, and Obama just bears no relation to reality, and the idea that we are where we are in the health-care debate because Republicans have been intransigent is utterly detached from the events of the past few months.
We are dealing with the bills we’re dealing with because they are what the Democrats want, and the Democrats have the numbers to give their preferred way a real shot. If Mitch Daniels were the Senate minority leader, he would almost certainly be doing pretty much what Mitch McConnell is doing: trying everything he could to stop a terrible bill from passing. Daniels has more or less said as much himself — calling the bill “a disaster for taxpayers,” “a sucker play,” “a crushing blow to small business,” etc. and (in the same speech in D.C. that Pearlstein cites approvingly at the end of his column) describing the Obama administration’s early policy direction as “shock-and-awe statism” and “an audacious endeavor to overwhelm the defenses of freedom and free institutions before they have a chance to regroup and organize themselves.”
Yes, they’re both named Mitch, but that’s hardly an excuse for such a careless column.