Thursday, January 28, 2010

Health-Care Melee

As Democratic legislators engage in white-knuckle negotiations on health-care, a lot of semi-conflicting reports seem to be emerging. Some suggest that the talks are in a "grim" state. But GOP Sen. Jon Kyl now says that he's heard that the Democrats will use reconciliation to pass health-care reform and/or get the House to agree to some deal on Obamacare:
JK: This is kind of breaking news. As you say, we’re just hearing it. We haven’t been formally advised, but we have it on relatively good authority. And this would be what they call the nuclear option. This would be we can’t do it with 60 votes, because now we have a new Senator from Massachusetts, so we’ll do it with 51. Now it’s called the nuclear option, because it really upsets all of the tradition and precedent within the Senate which on a really big bill on the magnitude of health care, would always have strong bipartisan support, and therefore the 60 vote requirement really doesn’t matter. But here, using an arcane part of the budget that ordinarily relates to tax cuts or tax increases, it doesn’t relate to comprehensive bills with a lot of substantive provisions in them, but just changes in the tax code, usually. They’re going to try to rewrite this bill to, where it would only need 51 votes, and still accomplish most of what the bill will accomplish. Now what this will do is let the Blanche Lincolns and Ben Nelsons and Evan Bayhs and other to say oh, I can’t go along with this now. And of course, that’s exactly what their constituents want to hear. But it doesn’t matter, because their votes in effect at this point don’t count. They don’t matter. All it takes is 51 Democrats to vote for it, and it becomes law. It remains to be seen how long the process will take, and whether, and how much of the provisions of the comprehensive health care reform that we’ve been looking at can be scooped up into this legislation. But it now appears the Democrats are going to try that.
If the Democrats do try to push reconciliation, expect Senate Democrats in many battleground states to try to distance themselves from the measure by saying that of course they don't support it now. The 51-vote rule may be a way of giving some of these Democrats cover.

But how many endangered Senate Democrats are there? If Russ Feingold is potentially in trouble, who's really safe? Which Democrats are secure enough in their seats that they will want to vote for this exceedingly controversial measure?

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