Aside from temporary paralysis among congressional Democratic leaders, what will a victory later today by Scott Brown (R) mean for healthcare reform and the legislative agenda?
The immediate media reaction has been, “This will kill the Obama agenda.”
I don’t think that’s right.
First, even if Brown wins, leaving Senate Majority Leader Reid with only 59 aye votes for healthcare reform, we should remember that Sen. Reid has another parliamentary option — budget reconciliation.
I have been mystified for months now, watching the Senate stagger through “regular order,” making the kinds of political deals that enrage voters. Why doesn’t Reid use reconciliation?
If you believe that the duty of the Majority Leader of any party is to aggressively address the party legislative agenda and the interests of the President, if he is of the same party, then it seems almost mandatory that the Majority Leader use every parliamentary tool at his or her disposal.
Some in the mainstream media have pooh-poohed the idea of using reconciliation from Day One. The argument, generally goes like this: if Reid uses reconciliation, then it will forever ruin relationships with Senate Republicans.
I think that’s silly. Relationships cannot get much worse between Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans than they are now. And, who cares?
Senators from both parties will do what they believe is in their self interest — what will appeal to a sufficient number of voters in their states to ensure the Senator’s re-election. As the late Sam Rayburn said, not cynically, “The first duty of a Member is to get re-elected.” After all, the Constitution is based upon the presumption that senators and congressmen will sufficiently mirror the interests, aspirations, and needs of their districts and states, that a majority of those voters will return him or her to office.
After all, that’s the fundamental premise of a representative democracy — elected officials represent the interests of their states and districts. If not, they get kicked out.
So, after initial anger over the use of reconciliation to pass healthcare reform, Republican senators (like all senators have done since time immemorial) will pursue their interests. It is the legislative wrestling over conflicting interests that produces legislation of any size or import.
Here’s a thought.
Browns wins. Reid decides NOT to use reconciliation. Is healthcare reform dead?
Not at all in my judgment. What has been killed is a form, a “progressive” form, of the legislation.
Indeed, this would give Reid a chance to really talk with the Grassleys and Enzis of the Republican Senate about “what is possible.” What a refreshing notion—the art of the possible.
As a start, Democrats could concede on tort reform to some extent, Republicans could concede on across-state-line insurance competition, both sides could forge an agreement on portability, a pool for those who don’t have insurance, broadened ability of “related groups” to get group health insurance, and on a prohibition on insurance denial due to pre-existing condition.
I believe that such a deal — outlined in very rough form here — would probably get 70-80 votes in the Senate. The 15 “theological” senators from the Progressive Caucus and the 15 on the obdurate right of the Republican caucus would scream. That would confirm that such a deal is in the interests of most senators and most citizens.
And, it is in the interests of both parties — Republicans can show that they have real legislative ideas and Democrats would show that they can get legislation passed.
That happy sigh you hear is the vast citizenry regaining a little respect for Congress.