Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Legislative Options

Credit to Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic caucus leaders for holding it together enough to get the health care bill to the floor. They needed every single Democratic vote to get to 60, and they did. That only gets them into the woods, though, not out of the woods. There are likely to be several balky Democratic votes for cloture, to end the debate, unless they get amendments they want--some of which could cripple the bill's effectiveness. Help from the only Republican who seems even to be considering cooperation, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, seems unlikely as well, unless she gets her way.

Three thoughts on breaking the possible roadblock:
1) The nuclear option--to change the filibuster rules to say, 51 votes for cloture--requires only a simple majority. It's a good threat to make some Republicans agree to cloture or compromise, because otherwise they lose their leverage.
2) Deal: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) is the balker with the most to lose or gain, because she's the one with a tough re-election coming up in 2010--give her a spot on the conference committee. She only gets to vote on resolving differences between the bills, but there will be plenety, and it will give her a chance to take a high profile and get some bone Arkansans want. The others may profit from her precedent.
3) I'm sure the hypotheticals of the reconciliation approach--in which the bill would be presented (in a single bill, or as multiple bills) as a fulfillment of budget requirements, which is exempted from the 60-vote cloture rule--have been discussed with the parliamentarian and Reid knows exactly what would get through. I'm no expert, but if the bill has enough budget-beneficial effects spread through it, a lot of it would.

It's not time to give up the p.o. w/opt-out (po-woo) provision yet, but in the end, I'd be satisfied with an up-or-down vote, then taking it out. Then we'd know who the insurance tools are, and they'd be drummed out of most Democratic funds.

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