Monday, February 15, 2010

Why cramming health care through reconciliation is quite unlikely

We keep hearing rumors of how Pelosi and Reid are still trying to find a way to cram their undead health care reform bill through the Congress using reconciliation. Unfortunately, for Pelosi, that means that the House Democrats would have to vote for the Senate bill as written including all the politically toxic bits like the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase and Different requirements on Medicare Advantage for people in Florida and New York than for your state. Michael Barone explains why so few Democrats want to sign on to such a deal.
Look at it this way. Imagine you’re a Democratic congressman from a not entirely safe district. The leadership comes to you and says, We’d like you to vote for the Senate bill. Oh, and by the way, we can’t change a word in it. You’ve got to vote for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase and all that other garbage.

But hey, the leadership guy will go on, there’s no risk, because the Senate will fix everything through the reconciliation process. You will be suspicious of this. You will note that using the reconciliation process requires favorable rulings from the Senate parliamentarian, rulings over which you have no more leverage than you have over phases of the moon. It requires 50 Democratic senators willing to go along with reconciliation, and given the poll numbers that have been coming out lately that’s not a sure thing. And it requires steady leadership from Harry Reid—who just last week, without notice to the White House, the House leadership or the senators involved, yanked a Baucus-Grassely bipartisan “jobs” bill and substituted a much smaller one of his own.

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that will keep its part of the bargain.
And remember that the House passed the first bill with only two votes to spare. One vote was a Republican who has said he won't vote for the Senate bill. And since then Robert Wexler has left the House and John Murtha has passed away. Pelosi has a lot of arms to twist really hard in a tough election year for many Democrats. She's shown an admirable ability to get her caucus to go along with what she wants, but cramming down this bill through this specific procedure might be several twisted arms too much for even the redoubtable Nancy.