I’ve been puzzling over the same questions Rob has — that why both the White House and the Raul Grijalva set among House progressives seem publicly committed to positions that are utterly irrational. And…I’m still not sure, but here are my guesses.
The House liberals suddenly against voting for the only viable health care reform option are the tough case, not least because there are probably a few groups. As Krugman says, there does seem to be a group of House Democrats who are just genuinely acting irrationally, convincing themselves that there’s some kind of underpants gnome theory that will translate the right kind of posturing into a better Senate bill even though the post-special election edition of the World’s Worst Deliberative Body couldn’t even pass something as good as the current bill. There’s not much to say about this except that it’s crazy. In addition to this, there are probably heighten-the-contradictions types: some who just don’t think the bill improves the status quo (pretty clearly erroneously, I think, and the argument is particularly indefensible if you voted for the House bill, which is hardly radically different than the Senate version), along with some who don’t actually think the status quo if preferable to the bill but are deluding themselves about how soon the next opportunity to reform health care will come along. Since the latter group are acting almost as irrationally as the underpants gnomes faction, this isn’t a very satisfying explanation, but I don’t see any others.
As for the White House, I see an intelligible but profoundly misguided logic to their actions. Unless the administration has hired Mark Penn while I wasn’t looking, I don’t think for a minute that Obama or his senior advisers really believe they can get Republican votes in the Senate for a health care reform measure. Rather, I think they consider the reform bill doomed, and are invoking bipartisanship as a way to try to transfer some blame for the likely failure to Republicans. The problem with this, of course, it’s that it can’t work. The White House needs to face up to a simple reality: they own health care. If nothing gets done, it will be blamed on them, not the GOP. The public doesn’t care about the labor pains; it wants to see the baby. It’s not entirely fair — yes, it’s awful that the Republican minority in the Senate has substantial power without responsibility, and yes if the United States had political institutions appropriate for a modern democracy a better bill would have passed months ago. But, you know, ugatz fair. You govern with the institutions you have, and Obama needs to be doing everything he can to get the Senate bill through the House and a reconciliation bill through the Senate, will making it clear that there’s no viable Plan B. It may not work, but if it doesn’t he’s in serious political trouble either way.
In short, there’s no way to assess the situation, I don’t think, without seeing horrible failures of leadership: Obama, Frank, Weiner, any number of others — even if they come around in the end, they’ve acted very irresponsibly at a crucial time, and it may be too late. It’s very hard to have any optimism left.