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Bipartisan Health Care Reform: Not Likely, Not Necessary

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As Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny reported in the New York Times, the Democrats appear to be preparing to go it alone on health care reform while trying to hang the obstructionist tag on the Republicans.

While there are obvious dangers to abandoning bipartisanship on such a hot-button issue, you have to wonder what took them so long.

Bipartisanship sounds like a good idea and polls show most Americans want the parties to work together to solve big problems. This of course led President Obama to talk about reaching across the aisle during his campaign and in the early days of his presidency. He took it one step further and appointed Republicans to high-ranking positions -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Ambassador Jon Huntsman among others.

And bipartisanship gives the governing party some political cover. It would be hard for Republicans to criticize the Democrats about the outcome of health care reform if they voted for it.

But the reality is that bipartisanship is hard to achieve and is no guarantee of public policy success.

For example, The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed the Senate with only two dissenting votes, hastening the escalation of the Vietnam War. Perhaps a little obstruction might have been a good thing. Similarly, the Iraq War resolution passed with broad bipartisan support, as Democrats tried to burnish their war on terrorism credentials.

On the flip side, some very successful public policy has been enacted along straight party lines. Medicare passed without a single Republican vote and is today one of most successful and popular of all government programs.

Bill Clinton's economic package of budget cuts and tax increases passed in 1993 without a single Republican vote, ushering in eight years of prosperity and balancing the federal budget.

In the end, the success of health care reform will not be judged by how many Republicans (or Blue Dogs) vote for it. It will be judged by how well it works. Democrats won't be punished for pushing through reform without Republican support. They will be punished if they fail to act, or if what they unilaterally enact fails.

The stakes are high for both parties, but sometimes going it alone is not so bad.

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