A nice catch by David Waldman. Evan Bayh assured us that the caucus could control Lieberman back when he endorsed letting the Connecticut senator keep his committee chairs. Now that the time is approaching for the caucus to exert that control, in order to get cloture for the health care bill, Bayh says it would be wrong to try to force someone to facilitate legislation that they don’t agree with. The worst part? He’s talking about himself.
When I gamed this out during the spring and summer, I came to the conclusion that the president wouldn’t get any health care bill at the 60-vote threshold, even one that was badly watered down. But, for appearances sake and as a matter of strategy, he had to give an honest try. For me, that was what all the nonsense with the Finance Committee and the Gang of Six was all about. But, despite winning over Olympia Snowe, the challenge of reaching 60 votes has always been about a few corporate whores in the Democratic caucus. I will name them: Joe Lieberman, Tom Carper, Evan Bayh (all former chairmen of the Democratic Leadership Council), Kent Conrad, Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, and (possibly) Mary Landrieu. None of these senators wants to enact the health care plan that the president ran on. And, without their support for cloture, we simply cannot pass a good health care bill in the Senate. It’s easy to apply a shithammer’s worth of pressure on a single wayward senator, but it’s a lot harder to deal with a bloc of corporate shills.
Therefore, I had assumed that the effort to reach 60 votes would fail. But we are right in the thick of the end game now. Never before has a health care bill of this scope passed through all the congressional committees that have jurisdiction. There is a lot of momentum for passing a bill through regular order. If the effort fails, the Senate wants to be able to blame the House, and vice-versa. The progressives want to blame the centrists, and vice-versa. The Democrats and the White House want to blame the Republicans, and vice-versa.
It’s this blame game that will do the most to imperil final passage. House Progressives seem resolved to force through a bill that has a robust public option. Senate centrists seem resolved to block any bill that has a robust public option, or any public option at all. Harry Reid and the White House want a public option, but Reid doesn’t want to get blamed if he can’t get 60 votes.
There are three big speed humps, or votes. The House has to pass a bill. The Senate has to pass a bill. And then those two bills have to be melded into one Conference Report, and passed again by both houses. Reid and Pelosi have a decision to make. As it stands now, they are both poised to pass bills that are incompatible with each other. They can try to bridge the divide now, as they craft their respective bills, or they can try to bridge the divide in the Conference Committee that has the responsibility of reconciling the two bills.
If this process is going to succeed in producing health care reform at the 60-vote threshold, a grand compromise has to be reached at some point. The Schumer Opt-Out Plan might be the best solution.
If, on the other hand, the House passes a bill and successfully insists on a robust public option in the Conference Committee, and the thing dies from a Senate filibuster that is joined by a few Democratic senate whores, then it will be a big blow that will do a lot of damage to the momentum for reform. As I said in my summer analysis, which foresaw this as the likeliest outcome, the whole thing will be an ugly mess. Even the alternative, where House Progressives vote down the Conference Report, as they have promised to do if it doesn’t contain a robust public option, would be a car wreck.
The only way to avoid this chaos is for the White House to use all the tools at their disposal to either get cloture in the Senate or break the will of the House progressives. In truth, going the latter route would require a lot of pressure on liberal senators, too. The decision should be an easy one, despite the unpleasantness of it all. The White House should fight for the plan they campaigned on. And, if they fail, they should use the reconciliation process and just deal with the ugly fallout.