For the first time in the health care debate in a couple months, the major players seem to be reading from the same script. The President made his pitch for health care reform before the big summit this week. Democrats, including members of the leadership, continue to sign on to using reconciliation to finish off the bill. And Harry Reid provided a timeline.
Democrats will finish their health reform efforts within the next two months by using a majority-vote maneuver in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.
Reid said that congressional Democrats would likely opt for a procedural tactic in the Senate allowing the upper chamber to make final changes to its healthcare bill with only a simple majority of senators, instead of the 60 it takes to normally end a filibuster.
“I’ve had many conversations this week with the president, his chief of staff, and Speaker Pelosi,” Reid said during an appearance Friday evening on “Face to Face with Jon Ralston” in Nevada. “And we’re really trying to move forward on this.”
The majority leader said that while Democrats have a number of options, they would likely use the budget reconciliation process to pass a series of fixes to the first healthcare bill passed by the Senate in November. These changes are needed to secure votes for passage of that original Senate bill in the House.
I think the White House and the Congressional leaders looked around, recognized that most of the rest of the agenda was stalled, and realized that if they wanted to show progress to the base they had to take up this health care bill, which offered the least resistance since something’s already passed the Senate and they could finish it off with 50 votes. A year of nothing in 2010 after a year of health care without final passage in 2009 would clearly have been devastating, and really there aren’t many other paths to progress. And with the President working the obstructionism angle hard, the ability to pass health care even in a polarized environment will, they probably believe, reflect well on their abilities. Here’s the last paragraph of the President’s YouTube address:
What’s being tested here is not just our ability to solve this one problem, but our ability to solve any problem. Right now, Americans are understandably despairing about whether partisanship and the undue influence of special interests in Washington will make it impossible for us to deal with the big challenges that face our country. They want to see us focus not on scoring points, but on solving problems; not on the next election but on the next generation. That is what we can do, and that is what we must do when we come together for this bipartisan health care meeting next week. Thank you, and have a great weekend.
The thinking goes that finishing health care would show the solving of a problem. And Mitch McConnell had to acknowledge that his ability to block passage is limited.
I do agree that the Democrats seized on the news peg about Anthem Blue Cross of California’s rate hike to return to health care, and it was a fairly sharp tactic for them. I’ve heard about Anthem in at least two dozen public comments from Administration officials in the past week. And it’s allowed a pivot, to contrast the bill with the consequences of inaction.
The only problem I see with this newfound approach from a mechanical standpoint, regardless of the content of the bill, is that they are going about it in a modular fashion. They first sought agreement on a procedure, and the reconciliation sidecar appears to have won out. Since the House refuses to go first, the action has been on the Senate side. But they must figure out a parliamentary function, to make it so the sidecar assumes passage of the Senate bill, otherwise the CBO scoring will prevent that solution (see here).
In addition, everyone is basically neglecting the House in all of this, and in particular the math of a bill without the Stupak amendment. I’ve probably mentioned this 50 times, but I don’t know where you find those dozen or so votes who would drop off the bill for that reason, no matter what gets passed in a sidecar (especially because this abortion issue probably cannot be solved there).