Brown Win Would Kill Only Most Viral Form of Obamacare

January 19th, 2010 at 6:00 pm | 7 Comments |

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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.

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • balconesfault

    If they go the reconciliation route, isn’t there a finite time limit on whatever reforms are passed? I thought that was the reason the Bush tax cuts had to have an expiration date – because they were passed through the reconciliation process.

    Given that many of the healthcare bill provisions have a 3-4 year phase in period, that would make it very possible for the bill to only become fully active for a year or two before requiring this whole charade to start over again.

    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.

    And this is what I mean by “charade”. Max Baucus spent 6 months in his committee trying to hammer out an agreement on “what is possible”. The Republicans were never going to get a more sympathetic hearing from any Dems than they got from Baucus. And still, he could only manage to pull one Republican along to vote the bill out of committee.

    The only incentive that the Repubs will have if Brown wins will be the gamble that now having the clear responsibility for killing healthcare (before they could blame it on the Dem caucus not being in lockstep) will fall on their laps … and instead of campaigning on rescinding healthcare in the fall, they’ll have to campaign against Dems who say “if you ever want healthcare reform … the Repubs showed through under Bush that they’ll never take it up, and showed last year that they’ll never let anything that expands government’s role in healthcare pass”.

    Want to be on the anti-government side of that referendum? That’s where the Republicans look to be next November.

  • mlloyd

    Agreed on reconciliation. 59 votes is still more than half.

    But I can’t agree with your prediction that the GOP will work with the Dems on a different version of health insurance reform. Grassley will oppose, in the harshest possible terms, anything the Dems propose– including things he had supported a month earlier! http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2009_10/020301.php

    The GOP has put all of its chips on obstruction. If Brown wins, it will draw the lesson that obstruction works– and it might be right.

  • sinz54

    balconesfault:

    The problem is that budget reconciliation can only be used for BUDGET-related line items.

    Mandates on the private sector (like mandating all Americans to purchase health insurance from private insurers, and mandates on private insurers not to reject applicants with pre-existing conditions) could not be included under reconciliation.

    If the Dems tried to sneak those provisions under reconciliation, there would be a zillion court challenges that would tie up the thing for years.

    So reconciliation would require that health care reform be downsized severely. It would be effectively reduced to just an incremental expansion of S-CHIP and Medicaid. That’s the kind of small-scale reform Bill Clinton would like, but it’s not the sweeping reforms that Obama had hoped for.

  • BoschsPoodle

    The author of this article doesn’t seem familiar with health care reform, Senate rules, or the history of trying to negotiate with Republicans in Congress. While I can almost understand a writer penning an article about something he knows little about, it surprises me an editor would let this through. I keep waiting for intelligent conservative debate (God knows NRO is hopeless). This is not a good start.

  • Kevin B

    How about this?

    The house just approves the Senate version of the HCR bill, and then puts it behind them, so that the Democrats and Republicans can get their heads together and talk about “what is possible” in job creation.

  • balconesfault

    The house just approves the Senate version of the HCR bill, and then puts it behind them, so that the Democrats and Republicans can get their heads together and talk about “what is possible” in job creation.

    Does the Sestak faction … or I should say, the American Council of Archbishops … allow this to happen with the less strong anti-abortion language in the Senate bill?

  • ProfNickD

    The Senate cannot use the reconciliation process for non-budget matters, such as creating insurance exchanges, prohibiting preexisting condition exclusions, and individual insurance coverage mandates, all of which are a centerpiece of Obama’s health care agenda.