Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 27, 2010

HOUSE LOOKS TO SENATE FOR HCR ASSURANCES.... The NYT reports that congressional Democrats have "no clear path forward on major health care legislation," and party leaders have "effectively slammed the brakes" on the entire policy initiative. The piece makes it sound as reform is all but dead.

From what I can gather after talking to a variety of sources, the Times has overstated matters. The road ahead is far from encouraging, but all hope is not lost.

Indeed, when it comes to the House, there's growing evidence that the chamber really can pass the Senate bill -- if only the Senate would give the House some signals about improvements that could be approved. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) made some encouraging remarks yesterday, and Brian Beutler's report after last night's caucus meeting offer additional hope.

Leading Democrats in the House still insist that "all options are on the table" to move ahead on health care. But for the first time since last Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts, it's clear that they're coalescing around the most widely discussed option: moving ahead with the Senate bill once it's clear that it will be changed through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process. Before they can move ahead, they need the Senate to make some real headway on their end of the bargain -- and they're not getting the signs they need.

Several leading House members, including Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), said they're prepared to move forward with this approach.* "The hang up, they now say, is not on their end, but that they first need a high sign from the Senate that the two chambers can work in lockstep."

What's needed, then, is 50 Senate Democrats willing to agree to changes -- improvements senators were prepared to accept just two weeks ago -- that would finally produce a breakthrough.

That should be easy. It's not. While 60 Senate Democrats voted for a comprehensive reform just a month ago, there may not be 50 Senate Democrats willing to accept minor changes now. Why? Because they're scared after Massachusetts' special election.

Indeed, several knowledgeable sources have told me that pro-reform calls to the House have helped stiffen spines -- a week ago, 218 appeared impossible; now it appears doable -- but it's the overly-cautious, risk-averse Senate that needs to receive public pressure. The upper chamber has become so terrified, it's apparently reluctant to do or say much of anything -- so much so at yesterday's caucus meeting, senators literally didn't mention health care at all.

Over the last few days, every relevant player has come to realize that there are two real choices: (1) failure; or (2) House passes the Senate bill, Senate agrees to some minor changes. If you'd pressed me last week, I would have said there's a 5% chance this is going to work out. Now, I'd put the number at maybe 20%, higher if the White House starts trying to make this happen.

The odds are long, and the smart money is still on failure, but I'm not jumping out the window yet.

Pass. The. Damn. Bill.

* edited for clarity

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Posted by: neill on January 27, 2010 at 8:06 AM | PERMALINK

I called my senator, Bill Nelson, to support reconciliation. The assistant told me hasn't decided yet. I will say that people should continue to call their house members because this whole reconciliation thing has the potential in becoming an excuse for not voting the Senate bill. I would also call the White House.

Posted by: Micheline on January 27, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

The U.S. Senate: cojones-free zone.

Posted by: Basilisc on January 27, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

You know I was thinking the other day about when the Senate was 50/50 and Darth Cheney had the deciding vote. Why was 50 +1 good enough then? I remember the knashing of teeth and ripping of fabric ... oh the anguish. No balls at all, no left one no right one not even a slight one.

Posted by: John R on January 27, 2010 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

And here I thought that we elected Senators to, you know, do stuff. They are children.

Posted by: terraformer on January 27, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Not to spread undue pessimism, but any sort of news that fits the mould of "We were ready, it was the other legislative branch that failed to pass the bill" doesn't get me very excited.

@terraformer: Yes. Children who will be re-elected by their constituents.

Posted by: sleepy_commentator on January 27, 2010 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

Never underestimate the ability of the insurance industry and wealthy special interests to derail health care reform.

Posted by: bakho on January 27, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

What is exasperating is that the same "centrists" DEM which are responsible for lagging the process for so long and making all the backdoor deals which soured the bill on the public - they still have the chutzpah to oppose reconciliation. Throw them to the dogs (blue or otherwise).

Posted by: Yoni on January 27, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

"Never underestimate the ability of the insurance industry and wealthy special interests to derail health care reform."

Speaking of which - I saw one already refering to the Brown victory that said in effect ...see Ameikuns don't want health reform. Regardless if the election was about anything else. Bought and sold . You get the Government your corporation can afford to give you.

Posted by: John R on January 27, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Well, at least you've figured out where the problem is and always has been.

Posted by: SW on January 27, 2010 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

It is the Senate that is broken.

Posted by: SW on January 27, 2010 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

The Damn Bill Pass. Adios

Posted by: lou on January 27, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

What's needed, then, is 50 Senate Democrats willing to agree to changes -- improvements senators were prepared to accept just two weeks ago -- that would finally produce a breakthrough.

The way I read it: the White House cooked up the Senate bill, which they knew the base (the House, essentially) Senate wouldn't like, passed it off to Baucus to dig up some R votes, and he couldn't get them. Pelosi managed to squeeze a bill out of her caucus that contained a unacceptable compromise (the Stupak amendment), and a compromise the WH didn't want (the PO), and had a deal with the Senate in place, then the House bill went to the Senate, the sent broke the deal, dumped all the House elements, sent the bill back to the House and Pelosi was trying to work out the nitroglycerin-delicate details when the election went south in Boston.

Pelosi got her caucus to deliver, Reid didn't.

So Pelosi is trying to workaround the lack of a House-Senate conference by the sidecar reconciliation, and the Senate is wary (they don't like it?) and the WH has stayed out of it again, since neither the Senate nor the President wants to be associated with it.

The House caucus was under heavy pressure from four different directions (the WH/Senate, the teabaggers, the now-angry base and the economy), and given that they barely passed a bill the first time, it shouldn't be a surprise that they routed, since they were essentially abandoned by the White House.

That's the way the evidence (from the last six months) reads. So we need the WH to suck it up, figure out that they're not running for three years (unless they want to screw the base so badly it disappears, and Obama gets impeached by an R majority), and get the Senate to come around.

['We're just waiting.']

Posted by: max on January 27, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Not because they're scared. Because they never wanted reform in the first place. They don't care. It was all a show, a fundraising tool, and they need to keep that going. Like the GOP and abortion.

Posted by: Jay on January 27, 2010 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

I am convinced the senate wants to Kill America and Americans for the Senators own corporate campaign money. The senate believes the taxpayers do not deserve Health Care. Only Congress and the rich do.

Posted by: MLjohnston on January 27, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

"They're scared"

Tell them about Oregon.

Posted by: Zandru on January 27, 2010 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Guys, it seems that many of
you think that there is a
huge public clamor out their
for Congress to ram this thing
through. Maybe I've missed it,
but I don't see that at all. I
dare say this is what is causing
many in both the House and the
Senate to take pause.

Posted by: Liberal Lover on January 27, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Jay, if what you say is true, then
why bother? It's all rigged anyways.

Posted by: Liberal Lover on January 27, 2010 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

There's denial and then there's denial.

The Senate rejected reconciliation several days ago. Benen didn't bother to report it, but it was widely publicized, Reid actually tried to get 51 Senators to sign a letter supporting the idea, and couldn't.

Reconciliation is dead. Anyone still counting on the sidecar strategy has to answer three questions:

1. Where are the votes? There aren't any, that's been proven, so why do you insist on claiming that there might be some hope left on it?

2. What makes you think the changes needed can be passed through reconciliation? The Public Option is a key part of the three legged stool, but it's both against the rules to pass it via reconciliation and doesn't have the support in the Senate. There aren't enough supporters in the House to vote for the Senate bill unless there's a Public Option. Where are the Senate votes for it? Where are the House votes without it?

3. What makes you think the right changes would go through reconciliation? Remember after the House passed their bill everyone thought "Well, it has problems, like Stupak, but that's OK because we'll have a chance to fix it in the Senate?" The proposals thus far for things to go through reconciliation aren't encouraging, they seem mainly focused on appeasing lobbyist groups, like the proposed changes to the excise tax, that'll unbelievably KEEP the damned thing, but make certain groups, not based upon merit, immune from it.

The Bill is dead. The real options now are to do nothing, or to call for a new bill, possibly a weaker one that's genuinely progressive, or possibly just some trimming around the edges. The Senate Bill is dead. It's over. Pretending "there's still hope" is wasting everyone's time, and evidence of living in denial.

And let's be honest, it was an awful bill to begin with. Good riddance to it.

Posted by: squiggleslash on January 27, 2010 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

The Senate will ultimately be the culprit if this bill doesn't pass. If you have to choose, call your senator first and tell them that they will not get your vote if they sit on their hands.

Anyone who isn't pushing to get a 50-senator coalition to pass reconciliation can be blamed for the death of HCR. House members need to be able to point to some improvement to the PoS Senate bill before they can hold their nose and cast their vote.

Posted by: bdop4 on January 27, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

HCR will never go anywhere if the House is waiting for Harry Reid and the Senate. Pelosi is going to have to force their hands by passing the Senate bill "as is" and sending it to Obama to sign along with a separate bill with the changes they want. The Senate will be embarrassed enough to change items in reconciliation only when they are faced with going to the voters with some of the crap that is in their bill.

The Obama administration may set back the Democratic party for decades with his wimpyness, adoption of right wing framing of issues, and taking Biden and Clinton out of the Senate. Clinton would have made a great majority leader and partner for Pelosi to actually get something done in Washington.

Posted by: Th on January 27, 2010 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Caligula's horse would be a better senator than most of these Dim-ocrat bastards. Certainly a far, far better senator than legends-in-their-own-minds Evan Bayh and Dianne Feinstein.

Posted by: TCinLA on January 27, 2010 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK
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