Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 20, 2009

TWO BILLS, BETTER THAN ONE?.... When it comes to health care reform, a huge chunk of the bill is hardly controversial at all. Consumer protections -- forbidding insurers from deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, for example -- are popular and would likely pass with large, probably even bipartisan, support. It's the other part -- financing, public option, subsidies, reimbursement rates -- that's contentious.

Apparently, Democrats are starting to see the value in separating the votes. The popular part would come to the floor, and probably overcome a filibuster. The second part would be done through reconciliation, and could pass with 51 votes.

The Wall Street Journal has a front-page piece today explaining that Senate Democratic leaders are considering just such a plan. "Privately," the WSJ reported, "those involved in the talks now say there is a 60% chance the split-bill tactic will be used."

Jonathan Cohn fleshed this out in more detail.

[The first bill] would include changes to Medicare and Medicaid, new taxes on individuals or employers, subsidies for people buying insurance, and (maybe) even a public plan. Because all of these affect federal outlays, positively or negatively, this bill could go through the reconciliation process, passing with just 50 votes.

The second bill would include the other elements -- the insurance regulations, the requirement that everybody get coverage, and so on. These are the pieces of reform the parliamentarian likely wouldn't allow to go through reconciliation. As a result, it would still need 60 votes. But that's not so farfetched, since these happen to be the parts of reform on which there is the most wide-ranging consensus. Plenty of Republicans support these ideas, at least in principle.

All of this is theoretical, of course. Republicans might not support that second bill if it meant handing the Democrats a victory. At the very least, they'd fight Democrats on the details. Nor is it clear Democrats themselves have enough unity to get fifty votes for the controversial elements of reform. And all of that is assuming the parliamentarian lets those controversial elements go through reconciliation in the first place That's hardly a sure thing; it will really come down to his interpretation of the rules. But even the theoretical possibility of Democrats passing reform on their own would change the dynamics in Congress, by giving Republicans new incentives to negotiate in good faith -- and giving Democrats a way to enact legislation in case the GOP remains as obstructionist as it is now.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that Reid is prepared to pass health care reform "by any legislative means necessary."

I'm beginning to think he might mean it.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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Comments

When Senate President Reid speaks , the thunder sleeps . May the
slippery succeed where the everything else has failed .

Posted by: FRP on August 20, 2009 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

Who is this parliamentarian whatsis, and who voted for him/her? Did he/she campaign for super majority gridlock? Did the voters agree to this?

LOL.

Posted by: Jan in Stone Mtn on August 20, 2009 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Again, Steve Benen shows misguided faith in Harry Reid!

Reid is a spineless wimp, was a spineless wimp and will always be a spineless wimp. Harry 'Gonad-Free Zone' Reid will cave on this like he has caved on every damn thing. To believe otherwise is to be set up for disappointment for the zillionth time!

Posted by: SadOldVet on August 20, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

A "Parliamentarian" is an English position, created by Rev. Charles Dogson (AKA Lewis Carroll),and is charged with settling disputes between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. . .

Posted by: DAY on August 20, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

I tend to agree that Reid will eventually cave in. He's absolutely terrified of the Republicans, no matter how unpopular they (and their policies) become.

However, if both parts pass--including a public option--without measurable Republican support, then Democrats will own healthcare for generations to come. If it's a success, millions will forever associate Democrats with a program that dramatically improved their lives. And that carries weight at the ballot box.

Posted by: Domage on August 20, 2009 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK
However, if both parts pass--including a public option--without measurable Republican support, then Democrats will own healthcare for generations to come. If it's a success, millions will forever associate Democrats with a program that dramatically improved their lives. And that carries weight at the ballot box.

You'd think that would motivate them to write a really good bill... but then, this IS the Democrats we're talking about.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Has anyone noticed that both Dick Armey and former repub senator DeLay (still as much a douchebag as ever) have both said that they want to kill medicare. None of the media have picked up on this.

Posted by: JS on August 20, 2009 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

These are the pieces of reform the parliamentarian likely wouldn't allow to go through reconciliation.

Who is this parliamentarian whatsis, and who voted for him/her?

The parliamentarian is merely an advisor to the President of the Senate (Biden). He is not obligated to accept the parliamentarian's advice. The Pres of the Senate actually has the power to make the ruling. THis is one reason I think people underestimated the danger of Palin's comment that a VP has more power than has traditionally been used. That said, I can't imaging Biden overruling the parliamentarian. Even the Republicans decided it was a better idea to replace three (?) of them rather than overrule one.

Posted by: Danp on August 20, 2009 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

BY the way, NO! NO! NO! on the two-bill idea. Does the Democratic Party want to have a future? If it demonstrates once and for all that even with big majorities in both houses it can't pass even the most vaguely Democratic legislation, then the party can just go to hell.

I mean, what the fuck did we vote for Obama for? For expanding the war in Afghanistan?

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Various talking heads, some reasonably credible, were saying last night that a public plan can't go through reconciliation, but no one explained why. Anyone have any insight on this?

Posted by: shortstop on August 20, 2009 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

Believe Reid at your peril...he'll fold like a cheap fan at the first pressure from ANYWHERE!!! I'll be very happily surprised if ANYTHING meaningful is passed to reform health care/insurance...FOLLOW the money and I don't mean what gets filtered down to the little people...this entire episode has been bungled and again Dems have allowed REPUGS to play their nasty, lying GAMES (and, for too many this is a game - unless you are uninsured, of course)and with the complicit corporate media they are WINNING!!! Just when you thought that the BUSH YEARS were as bad as it could get...HA!!!

Posted by: Dancer on August 20, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Wouldn't it be nice, and amazing, if the old gaming commissioner Reid came out of cold storage and stood up to Republicans for once in his pathetic Senate career?
If Casino was at all accurate, he had no problem telling gangsters to go f--- themselves. Why not say the same thing to Repubs? Neither has any intention of working in good faith. Actually, the gangsters were more trustworthy.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 20, 2009 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

I'm beginning to think he might mean it.


Really?

When has Reid ever meant anything?

Until and unless such time arrives that Reid should actually perform, I for one will grant him credit for nothing.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on August 20, 2009 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

This is the way it will be done. This was the strategy set in April. I think Obama would sign one bill, if it didn't have a public option, but got 5-10 republican votes. But even then, they could add a public option through reconciliation next year.

Republicans are not voting for anything though, so Plan B.

The only question I have, and I think many have, is whether the Baucus foot dragging was part of the plan or not.

Posted by: Patrick on August 20, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

BY the way, NO! NO! NO! on the two-bill idea. Does the Democratic Party want to have a future? If it demonstrates once and for all that even with big majorities in both houses it can't pass even the most vaguely Democratic legislation, then the party can just go to hell.

This makes no sense, the bills WOULD be passed. The Dems would get it done. Nobody will care in 2, 4, 8, 20, or 40 years how it was done.

Posted by: Patrick on August 20, 2009 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK
This makes no sense, the bills WOULD be passed. The Dems would get it done.

And Lucy won't pull the football away this time. Back in reality, this is a maneuver to try to pacify liberals by pretending that they tried, oh yes they really tried, to get a public option though the Senate, but it just wasn't to be, cheer up though because we DID pass the important part- the insurance company bailout.

At this point it takes a staggering amount of naivete not to see the corporate-whore Dems for what they really are, but some folks are always ready to rise to the challenge.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone?

Posted by: shortstop on August 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

...forbidding insurers from deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions,...

Wait. Republicans don't support that. It represents interference in the free market. Private insurance companies are supposed to be profitable and insuring sick people is not profitable.

You simply can't take anything for granted when the modern Republican Party is involved.

For example, most people would think that all things being equal, Republicans would want universal coverage. I don't think that's true. I don't think most Republicans care if everyone is covered and they wouldn't raise taxes a penny to make it happen. At least not if they thought they could get away with it.

Posted by: oh really on August 20, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK
Anyone?

I'm gathering that the excuse (not reason, of course) was that the Senate Parliamentarian supposedly will declare key provisions non budget-related and therefore not subject to the reconciliation process. But that's only my not very informed attempt to process a lot of confusing chatter.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, this is somewhat helpful.

Posted by: shortstop on August 20, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm beginning to think he might mean it.
--------------------------

You are a sweet young man.

Posted by: Fleas correct the era on August 20, 2009 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

Why can't we use the "nuclear option" that the Republicans threatened when the Democrats were filibustering Bush's appointments to the Federal bench? The mere mention of eliminating the filibuster caused a lot of scurrying to find a compromise. I realize that the Republicans are unlikely to compromise, but if the procedure can be used to block what may be the most significant legislation of the our lifetimes, what good is it doing us. The point of the filibuster was, from the outset, pernicious, it is still used that way in most cases.

Posted by: carwinrpc on August 20, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

I've learned for some time now that expecting Harry Reid to actually carry through with things like this is often a pipe dream. He is quoted as saying he "could" do it. He "could" have done a lot of things in the past, but for the most part....he hasn't. Comity is everything in the Senate and Harry is a poster child for all the ills that stance generates.

Posted by: dweb on August 20, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

How naive or just plain stupid are these people, including Obama, who don't understand that the republicans are not going to vote for anything the democrats suggest unless they want to bomb Iran, kill the death tax, do away with cap gains taxes, etc. etc. etc. They might not even vote for any of those unless they introduced the bill themselves. This is getting to be very tiresome. And I am getting very crotchety because of it. I probably should just sit the rest of the next 4 political years out because there's no sign it's going to change any time soon.

Posted by: CDW on August 20, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Chant with me now...

No public plan, no mandates!
No public plan, no mandates!
No public plan, no mandates!

So they are taking Paul Krugman's 4 pillars into two bills: regulation & mandates in one, subsidies & competition in the other.

What if they pass mandates first, then give us a second bill that does not bring premiums down (ie does not have a public option)? I kind of suspect that is their evil plan.

Posted by: Ohioan on August 20, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Barack Obama: the political acumen of Jimmy Carter, plus the honesty and straightforwardness of Bill Clinton!

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

And Lucy won't pull the football away this time. Back in reality, this is a maneuver to try to pacify liberals by pretending that they tried, oh yes they really tried, to get a public option though the Senate, but it just wasn't to be, cheer up though because we DID pass the important part- the insurance company bailout.

Possibly. But there are two things that negate your concern trolling:

1. Budget reconciliation, with the public option, will happen first. So, the insurance mandate would not be voted on until after a public option is in place.

2. If, in a straight vote, Dems can't get 50 votes in the Senate for a public option, you will be right about them. Plus, we will have the names of the 9-10 Senators that we can primary.

As for Republicans voting against the second bill out of spite, that is possible. They are that foolish. But I can hear the campaign commercials now:

"[Republican Congressman] voted to allow insurance companies to cancel the insurance policies of cancer victims"

Posted by: Patrick on August 20, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Budget reconciliation, with the public option, will happen first

Why do you think that the public option will be part of reconciliation?

Posted by: shortstop on August 20, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK
Barack Obama: the political acumen of Jimmy Carter, plus the honesty and straightforwardness of Bill Clinton!

Steve LaBonne - in a few comments, you have gone from angry liberal to concern troll. If you are the former, please settle down, take a breath, and wait for some time to pass. Obama is a politician and hence, he will disappoint you. However, he has shown extremely good judgment on many issues in the past, and he has an ambitious agenda. Also, there's no reason to both anticipate and despair over failure that has not happened. That's not cynical or experienced, that's just stupid.

On the other hand, if you are a not an angry liberal but concern troll, then you're way overdoing it with all the posts that no one is responding to. Please go pound sand up your ass while reconsidering your next alias and hysterical overreaction.

Posted by: Travis on August 20, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK
Steve LaBonne - in a few comments, you have gone from angry liberal to concern troll.

This only demonstratse that you don't have a fucking clue what a concern troll is. (Or about much of anything else.)

Sit down, shut the fuck up and read Glenn Greenwald as many times as necessary until you get some reality through your thick skull: http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/08/19/obama/

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

This is hardly evidence of "Miss Hathaway" developing a spine since splitting the bill makes it more difficult to pass the public option partof the plan. By splitting off the most popular aspects of the bill to be voted on separately only makes it easier for tools like Baucus, Conrad and Lieberman, Lincoln and Nelson to vote against a public option.

Keep the bill unbited and pass it through the reconciliation process or kiss the public option goodbye for another generation.

Posted by: Chesire11 on August 20, 2009 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Steve: chill.

Posted by: Bill W. on August 20, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

No, Bill. I'm fucking sick and tired of this crap after being told for decades by incrementalists, half-a loafers and not-as-bad-as-the-other-guyists to chill while the left wing of the Money Party does its dirty work.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

So decades ago you weren't a psycho?

Posted by: Bill W. on August 20, 2009 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

Well, Bill, at least I'm not an idiot brainwashed Democrat who'll gladly swallow a shit sandwich and pretend it's caviar.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

What a coincidence! Neither am I!

I also don't labor under the misconception that repeatedly losing all self control is a credibility builder.

Posted by: Bill W. on August 20, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Right, because pointing out the obvious- that Obama's messaging on health care has been at a Jimmy Carter level of ineptitude, and that he's a great deal less than straightforward about his real goals and strategies- is a sure sign of an unhinged mind. At least it is to shit-sandwich-eaters. Enjoy your lunch.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on August 20, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

This is hardly evidence of "Miss Hathaway" developing a spine since splitting the bill makes it more difficult to pass the public option partof the plan. By splitting off the most popular aspects of the bill to be voted on separately only makes it easier for tools like Baucus, Conrad and Lieberman, Lincoln and Nelson to vote against a public option.

Keep the bill unbited and pass it through the reconciliation process or kiss the public option goodbye for another generation.

I think you need to re-read the post. When something needs 50 votes, that is easier than when it needs 60 votes. Splitting the bill makes the public option only need 50 votes. Your list of Senators can all vote no and it would still pass (although, I doubt they will vote against it when it comes right down to it).

Posted by: Patrick on August 20, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Self-appointed, cynical know-it-all says:

"Barack Obama: the political acumen of Jimmy Carter, plus the honesty and straightforwardness of Bill Clinton!"

So, Mr. LaBonne, what will you say when the Democrats (who include people like Russ Feingold, Dennis Kucinich, Andrew Weiner, and Tom Barrett BTW), and who somehow had the political acumen to regain huge majorities in the House and Senate, and to recapture the Presidency when left for dead in 2004 and while you were honing your astute insight - anyhow what will you say when you are proven wrong and a good health care reform bill including a public option reaches Obama's desk later this year (or even next year in reconciliation)?

What do you say when you're proven wrong? Or, hasn't that ever happened yet.

This is really tiresome and, also BTW, Jimmy Carter was (is) a good man, a good Democrat with vision and insight, and I still like him in part because he was not a snotty cynic who talks down to anybody, especially to fellow "progressives" like you.

Posted by: colonpowwow on August 20, 2009 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

Patrick, I'm asking again why you think the public option can go through reconciliation -- I'm hearing a lot of people say it can't. Can you provide some more information?

Posted by: shortstop on August 20, 2009 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Steve - you can help the progressive movement on health and other issues by trying to persuade any local blue dogs, campaigning for progressive politicians, raising money and donating money for appropriate groups, showing up at local congressional fora, writing letters to local and national media. If you've done that, good: you may resume your tedious, pointless whining.

If you just want to complain about Obama not delivering all the progressive goodies you want, then you will be bitterly disppointed for many years. Obama is a center-left, cautious politician who has arrived at the end of a multi-decade culture and racial divide in politics. What is worse, the corporate media is stacked against him both by ideology and by competence. Our nation is easily riven with doubts about Obama and his policies, even when the charges are transparent, absurd lies. Finally, Obama strongly believes in leaving some things to Congress that other presidents have delivered via fiat, so progress on many issues will be haltingly, frustratingly slow.

This is reality, easily observed. Calling Obama names about events that are not yet concluded and that he cannot fully control isn't helpful or realistic. You're complaining about half-a-loaf, but I am telling you now: you're never going to get all the things you want. Deal with it. Work for what is better, not what is best.

Posted by: Travis on August 20, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

"...A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that Reid is prepared to pass health care reform "by any legislative means necessary."

I'm beginning to think he might mean it..."

God please let him meant it...PLEASE (oh hell, I don't believe in a parking place God anyway)...so please do it...you better do it Reid...you just have to. Maybe it will end the abuse of the filibuster as obstructionist policy to the dem agenda.

Posted by: bjobotts on August 20, 2009 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

. , .

Posted by: on October 22, 2009 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

, , .

Posted by: on December 25, 2009 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK
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