Commentary: Coalition of the governing
Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, wrote to her Republican counterparts extending "the hand of friendship" and offering "to work in a bipartisan fashion" to fix the flaws in Obamacare.
Let's hope she really means it. Let's hope Democrats won't use the collapse of the Republican health care effort simply to score political points against an irresponsibly inept president and continue his record of legislative futility.
The temptation is great. Donald Trump is clearly unqualified to be president. His favorable ratings are dreadful. His new chief of staff, John F. Kelly, probably won't change a 71-year-old man who refuses to adapt his impulsive and undisciplined style to the demands of governing.
In next year's congressional elections, too, Democrats will be eager to exploit Trump's dismal performance. And the poorer his record of accomplishment, the better their chances of defeating him in 2020 -- assuming he lasts that long and runs again.
But Democrats must face an inconvenient truth. They own Obamacare. They are responsible for it, with all its many benefits and failings. They made a huge mistake by passing it without a single Republican vote. Then they compounded that error by underestimating problems and overpromising results.
And now they owe it to the millions of people who rely on their program to improve it, to stabilize the marketplace, to focus on actual policy for a change and not just politics.
It won't be easy. Hardline leftists in their own party will call any Democrat who works with the GOP a soft-headed traitor. And pragmatic Republicans will be pressed by ideological purists in their own ranks to reject Pelosi's "hand of friendship."
But Democrats must make a sincere effort here. And if they help produce a reform package that can pass the Congress and acquire Trump's signature in some splashy Rose Garden ceremony, so be it.
Of course, Democrats relied on their own votes to pass Obamacare in the first place because Republicans refused to cooperate in crafting the bill. But now a few GOPers seem ready to defy Trump and the party's hard-core crazies and enter negotiations.
Three Republican senators provided the decisive votes that finally sank the Obamacare repeal effort; a half-dozen Republican governors also broke ranks and opposed the measure. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who heads the committee that handles health legislation, announced hearings for next month and endorsed legislation that stabilizes Obamacare at least through next year.
"Any solution that Congress passes for a 2018 stabilization package would need to be small, bipartisan and balanced," he said.
Centrist lawmakers from both parties, calling themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus, have advanced a sensible set of reform proposals. Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican who helps lead the caucus, said: "Maybe we look at a situation where it's 51 senators, regardless of what party they're from, and we put together a coalition of the governing who want to solve problems. And to me, that could be a winning combination, rather than just going shirts and skins."
One key fix that pragmatists of all stripes can agree on: Prop up shaky insurance markets by injecting more money into the system, as permanent subsidies for low-income policy buyers and better guarantees for insurance companies against excessive risk.
Trump denounces such subsidies as "bailouts" for insurance companies and threatens to "implode" the marketplace by holding them back. But that would be a cruel and cynical strategy that Republicans of goodwill must oppose.
"It really would be detrimental to some of the most vulnerable citizens if those payments are cut off," Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a leading Republican dissident, said on CNN.
Democrats should emulate Collins and Alexander. They should take compromise seriously and consider a range of Republican proposals: from giving states more flexibility in implementing Obamacare to increasing the number of workers a company must employ before it's required to provide insurance benefits.
Attention has focused on Sen. John McCain's dramatic vote when he joined Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski in killing the Republican health care proposal. But that moment should not overshadow the speech he made several nights before on the Senate floor, pleading for a revival of bipartisanship.
McCain, almost 81 and suffering from brain cancer, urged his colleagues to produce a health care bill "that will be imperfect, full of compromises, and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side, but that might provide workable solutions to problems Americans are struggling with today."
He was speaking to Democrats as well as Republicans. They should listen to his words. And act on them.
(Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)