The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn plays up Utah senator Bob Bennett’s newfound willingness to work with Democrats to achieve universal health coverage. But Bennett’s position isn’t as surprising as Cohn makes it out to be. He wasn’t a hard-core opponent of the Clinton health plan in 1993-94, and indeed declared himself to favor universal coverage back then. Note this exchange, reported by Fred Barnes in The American Spectator’s July 1994 issue:
Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah didn’t like what he heard. William Kristol, who runs the Project for the Republican Future, was talking about health care last March at a retreat in Philadelphia for GOP senators. “The first duty of the opposition is to oppose,” Kristol asserted. He urged the senators–about twenty-five Republicans attended–to stake out a principled opposition to President Clinton’s health-care plan. The principles they adopt, presumably conservative ones, would steer them to a positive but decidedly non-Clinton alternative, he added.
Bennett took sharp exception. “We have to be constructive,” he said. He and other senators were not sent to Washington to oppose Clinton. Their job, Bennett said, is to help govern. Not true, Kristol shot back. “If voters want their senators to help Clinton govern, they’ll send Democratic senators.”
That’s not to deny that Bennett’s latest efforts at health-care reform have political significance. But he is one of the first senators I would expect to be playing this type of role.