12/26/2009 10:25 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Walk Away From the Health Reform Bill

House progressives should simply walk away from this bill that's in conference. People who say 'accept what we've been offered' don't have the negotiator chops to make the call.

Just walk away.

Imagine paying $100 for a store brand loaf of white bread. That's what the senate is asking us to do.

I learned about walking away from a deal in Morocco, back in 1973. There, in the souks where tourists and locals buy goods, the vendors expect you to haggle. The vendors expect to rip off the most naive tourists, so they start off asking an outrageously high price. This happened to me when I was looking at a tapestry.

"How much," I asked.

"Eight hundred dirhams," he replied, about $200.00.

I knew my brother had bought one of these for $20 or $30 in the states, so I took a deep breath and offered ten dirhams, $2.50, and laughed.

He looked at me like I was crazy, so I started to walk away, as I'd done on numerous other occasions on my one month, post college graduation trip to Morocco.

"I give you special price-- 400 dirhams," he called to me.

"You insult me," I replied. "I'll give you 15 Dirhams," turned to see his response, then kept walking.

"Wait, wait. two hundred. Is very good price." He tried again.

I turned again towards him. "My brother bought one of these in the US. I know what it's worth. I'll give you 20 dirhams," I said.

"I have a wife and four children," he opined. "One hundred Dirhams. You take, yes?"

I walked again.

After a few more exchanges, I finally bought the tapestry for 40 dirhams -- ten dollars, a fortieth of the price he'd originally asked. But I'd been ready to walk and did start walking several times. Just because he told me he was giving me a good deal didn't cut it. His offers had sucked. They had been insanely unreasonably initially.

I've been self employed as a freelance writer or entrepreneur since 1980, almost 30 years. I don't take the offered price as THE price. I almost always ask if they can do better. I often shop for better prices and often inform my potential suppliers that I am shopping. This is what business people do to survive. It's not what you gross. It's what you keep. You have to cut good deals every time to make a living.

This shocks some people, even embarrasses many, who are accustomed to going into a store and paying retail, as told. I'm so accustomed to my way of doing business WITH negotiation, that when I experienced a hassle buying a Christmas gift at BestBuy, I asked to speak to a manager and requested some discount somewhere -- on the price of the item, the warranty. He ended up coming back with discounts that added up to $19. Not much, but worth the ten seconds it took to ask for it.

It's not that uncommon for people to haggle while buying cars, or to haggle when at a flea market or yard sale. But there are even people who don't haggle there. If a person comes into a car dealership, especially a used car dealership, and pays the asking price, you KNOW, the sales person thinks the person is a sucker and a fool.

There are some vendors who try to embarrass you or feign to taking offense if you negotiate. They're still working you, or they've decided there are enough suckers out there.

Early on, a lot of people complained that the house and senate and HCAN and other leaders were starting out on the health insurance reform path asking for far too little. There was no room to give up anything in the negotiations. It was no surprise that the final legislation offered almost nothing -- scraps and dregs of real reform.

But it's not too late. The members of the House can walk away. They can kill the bill... as it's currently written... and demand a hell of a lot more. Anything can happen in conference. They can come out with a far more robust bill that really does make some reform happen.

The problem is, all these people are saying, "Settle for this first wonderful step."

Sorry. It's not wonderful and may not even be a step in the right direction. It proves that the health industry can effectively lobby the congress into total submission, so much that health care company stocks have reached record highs.

I think the people who are saying settle for what you've been offered are the people who happily go in and pay retail, at the flea market, at the auto dealer. I'm betting they're not entrepreneurs or purchasing people who know how to get the best for their money.

They don't have a clue how to negotiate and don't understand that sometimes, to get a fair deal, you have to walk away. That's the way it's been for millennia. it's the way the members of the house, particularly of the progressive caucus, should go.

Now, a lot of those same people are telling us we should take what we've been offered in the first pass. We should go to the car dealer and pay retail, Buy a house at the asking price that was set a year ago. Hello!! It is not too late to negotiate. It is the ideal time. Harry Reid thinks he has deal. Obama has already patted himself on the back. The progressive democrats should play hardball and force a better deal. The recalcitrant senators who held off until the last minute have already accepted big offers for their states and will be in trouble if they lose those hundreds of millions of dollars in perqs.

Now it's time to pay negotiating hardball for we-the-people instead of specific states or lobbying orgs. We can do this. if the members of the house call up the courage, We can walk away, look back and I assure you, Harry Reid, Obama, Rahm Emanuel-- they'll be coming back at us with better offers-- a lot better. That's not giving up. That's refusing to settle for the best we can get. Taking the offer the senate has made will be a reall sellout, something we've come to expect from Nancy Pelosi. Fortunately, she can't bring this bill home if the congressional progressive caucus demands more.

Let's hope Dennis Kucinich, Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, Lynn Woolsey, Anthony Weiner, John Conyers, Jan Schakowsky, Patrick Murphy (my rep,) Keith Ellison, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Donna Edwards, Tammy Baldwin, Earl Blumenauer, Robert Brady, Corrine Brown, Michael Capuano, Judy CHu, Yvette Clarke, Elijah Cummings, Danny Davis, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Sam Farr, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Marcia L. Fudge, Luis Guttierrez, Phil Hare, Alcee Hastings, Maurice Hinchey, Hichael Honda, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Eddie Bernice Johnson, Hank Johnson, Marcy Kaptur, Carolyn Kilpatrick, Barbara Lee, John Lewis, David Loebsack, Ben R. Lujan, Carolyn Maloney, Ed Markey, Eric Massa, Jim McDermott, James McGovern, George Miller, Gwen Moore, Jim Moran, Jerrold Nadler, ELeanor Holmes-Norton, John Oliver, Frank Pallone, Ed Pastor, Donald Payne, Chellie Pingree, Jared Polis, Charlie Rangel, Laura Richardson, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Bobby Rush, LInda Sanchez, Jose Serrano, Louise Slaughter, Pete Stark, Bennie Thompson, John Tierney, Nydia Velazquez, Maxine Waters, Henry Waxman, Peter Welch, Robert Wexler and others will hold firm and talk now, over the holiday break, about rejecting the bill.

There's no vote happening now. It's a safe time to get tough, take a stand now and get the Senate thinking about giving up some more. Failure to do so is just bad business, no, make that TERRIBLE business, incompent negotiation-- failure to negotiated effectively at a malpractice level.

Cross-posted from