Perhaps this was the wrong week for Paul Ryan and Ron Wyden to launch a pathbreaking bipartisan health care reform plan. My colleague Matthew Yglesias did a nice job explaining how, if people were paying attention, the plan represented a giant leap rightward in the health care conversation. That’s what Democrats fear, which is why “nobody is leaping to have his back on this deal, which is seen as giving away the store on substance and complicating Democrats’ messaging efforts.”
So why did Wyden do it? He’s been happy to dish. “What we’d like to do is start the conversation about the future,” he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I believe there’s a window here for trying to bring progressive folks and conservative folks together.” But there isn’t any window for doing that. The plan was launched the day of the final pre-Iowa caucus debate, which meant that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were crawling over each other to take credit for the plan. That immediately knocked the tinsel off of the “bipartisan” package. On Friday, the Senate was… well, it was tied up with late developments over a payroll tax cut deal, but it wasn’t abuzz with Democratic co-sponsors for Wyden-Ryan.
So what explains the Democrat from Utopia decideding to get on board with this? Occam’s razor: He believes in it. But another factor has to be the fate of one of Wyden’s great contributions to the Affordable Care Act, his Free Choice Vouchers. In April, when the parties were trading away pieces of the government in order to pass a continuing resolution, the vouchers were killed. No funeral – just gone. Wyden banged on about it at the time, but you can see that his Huffington Post column about the diss has as many reads as a slideshow about cats gets in its first hour. Wyden’s idea was unceremoniously killed. And what do you know – Free Choice Vouchers are part of Wyden-Ryan.