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Friday, October 16, 2009

Either the Democrats are Confused...

Or, I'm confused. There's two stories today that simply don't make sense together. First, here's the bold proclamation by Max Baucus.

When it comes time to vote, every Democrat in the Senate -- and perhaps more than one Republican -- will support legislation overhauling the nation's health care system, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee predicted Thursday.

That assertion by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was a notable show of confidence coming in the midst of negotiations with Majority Leader Harry Reid and White House officials to finalize legislation that can satisfy liberal Democrats without alienating moderates -- and get the 60 votes needed to advance in the 100-seat Senate.

So, if you do the quick math, Baucus is predicting that the Democrats will get at least 61 votes when health care reform comes in front of the Senate. So, I was confused when I read this.

A key House committee on Thursday quietly altered its health care legislation in a way that could allow the Senate to mow over Republican opposition to Democratic reforms by exploiting a budgetary loophole.

The Ways and Means Committee adjusted its health care overhaul package so that the Senate, down the road, could avoid a filibuster and pass health care reform with a smaller number of votes than normally required.

I was even more confused when Charlie Rangel justified the procedural move by saying this.

the action was necessary because there is a possibility that a handful of Senate Republicans could choose to engage in partisan tactics to stall this important health reform bill.

Normally, 60 votes are required to cut off debate in the Senate. Yet, under the rule known as "reconciliation" debate can be cut off with only 51 votes. Reconciliation is reserved only for budgetary issues like tax increases and cuts. This procedural move by the House committee paved the way for the health care bill to qualify for reconciliation.

So, on the one hand, Max Baucus says that there will be more than sixty votes once the bill is ready for a vote. On the other hand, the Democrats are paving the way to pass it with 51 votes. More than that, Rangel is blaming Republicans for this. If Baucus is sure that all Democrats will be on board, how can Republicans be the problem? If Republicans are the problem, then doesn't that mean that Baucus is a bit bold in his proclamation that all Democrats are on board?

This latest incident is indicative of a different problem. The Democrats refuse to take a stand on anything. They can't decide if the public option will or will not be in the final bill. They can't decide who to tax and how much. They can't decide on anything. They can't even decide if they will or will not use a procedural technique to pass health care reform.

With confusion comes distrust and that's just one reason why approval for health care has cratered. Even those that favor health care reform, and even this health care reform, must admit that the Democrats have totally screwed up execution. They're sort of like the lax parent that simply refuses to set any boundaries with their kids. The leadership refuses to take a stand on anything. They refuse to put a line in the sand on anything. As such, everything remains on the table. How can the public get behind anything if they don't know what anything is?

It's also indicative of the larger problem they simply won't come to grips with. If they did put a line in the sand, they simply wouldn't have the votes to pass. The president wants the public option but would take a bill without it. The problem is this. With a public option, he'll lose most moderates and no longer have the votes in either chamber. Without it, he'll lose a bunch of House liberals and not have the votes to pass. They don't have 60 votes so they can't pass the bill that way. Yet, if they tried reconciliation, they'd lose enough votes and still not pass it.

So, rather than come to grips with reality, Democratic leadership leaves everything open and continues negotiating hoping that the math will somehow magically change. Ultimately, health care reform comes down to the Democrats' governance problem. They are a series of factions all with their own agenda. The liberal wing has an entirely different agenda than the Blue Dogs. Trying to reconcile the two factions is very difficult. In fact, it maybe close to impossible. That's what the Democrats are realizing now. That's why they refuse to take a stand. Taking a stand means losing more votes than they can afford.


Anonymous said...

Actually, I haven't heard anyone claim in quite some time that the Democrats in the House didn't have enough votes to pass a public option. When Mike Ross, one of the public option's biggest opponents and one of the biggest recipients of industry money, is out there saying he supports expanding access to Medicare, I think its safe to say that Blue Dog opposition to a public option is effectively broken.

The Senate on the other hand is a different story entirely. At least the House has factions. In the Senate it seems like every Democrat has their own agenda. I saw this coming way back in 2004 when the Democrats followed up shooting themselves in the foot by letting Tom Daschle lose with shooting themselves in the other foot by replacing him with Harry Reid, YET ANOTHER weak, Red-State Democrat.

WHEN Harry Reid loses his re-election in 2010, its likely we will see him replaced by Charles Schumer, a reliable liberal in just about the safest Democratic seat in the Senate.

mike volpe said...

If things were simple in the House, there'd be a bill by now. I read in the Post today that it will be early November before there's a bill. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

The House has no need to move until the Senate does. Pelosi just wants to see what she's up against. Remember, the Democrats have almost total control over the Rules committee, and all of its Democratic members are appointed by Pelosi.