WASHINGTON — That talk of a bipartisan health care bill was a pleasant dream while it lasted.
The day after Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., shelved their effort to reach an agreement on how to improve upon the Affordable Care Act, observers of the process gave varied explanations for why Republicans and Democrats failed once again to solve the problem.
The dysfunction in Washington, most seemed to agree, is driven by large forces and long memories.
The nascent bipartisan deal was deemed not aggressive enough by either side. Republicans have been talking about repealing former President Obama’s 2010 health care law for nearly a decade, and Alexander’s focus was on preventing harm to Americans who might be hurt by rising premiums in the next year. But that focus involved extending parts of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, and many conservatives objected.
Democrats, meanwhile, weren’t in a compromising mood after watching Republicans fail to repeal and replace the ACA on their first attempt six weeks ago. They felt like the GOP had lost its its leverage, said Avik Roy, a conservative health care expert. And Democrats’ general antipathy toward President Trump means their default position is already to oppose anything he is trying to get done.
As a result, Republicans gravitated toward the so-called Graham-Cassidy legislation — named after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. — which focuses on giving states much greater ability to experiment with solutions to rising costs.
For their part, Democrats over the past week have flocked to the idea of a single-payer system, in essence a government-run system reviled by the president and his party.
Though Congress has been bogged down by partisan bickering for years now, this was a fairly straightforward choice for the members of what is supposed to be America’s great deliberative body. The Alexander-Murray effort represented a small-bore, incremental compromise. In response, both Democrats and Republicans chose instead to pursue a zero-sum approach that guarantees nothing but continued division.
Each side feels burned by the other’s behavior over the past decade.
Roy said the Democrats’ recent stampede to the left on single-payer coverage is caused in part by…