Saturday, March 13, 2010

Not Inevitable

There are a few possible inferences from the push from House leadership to talk about having a vote on the health-care bill at the end of next week.
  • They believe they have enough votes to pass the "Slaughter rule" or the Senate bill or whatever and want to push now, while they still have a seeming majority.
  • They sense their position is weakening but still believe they have the votes now.
  • They don't know whether they have the votes or not but just want to end the battle one way or another.
  • They don't have the votes now but are in part bluffing by talking about putting their position to a vote, hoping to corral undecideds with the appearance of being confident.
  • They know they don't have the votes but want to have a last charge up the hill of Obamacare in a display of progressive glory.
All of these possibilities suggest one thing: approval of the Senate's bill is not inevitable. Inevitability is one of the strongest forces on Capitol Hill, especially when members are considering voting against their party leadership. Very few in Congress like to be on the losing side; they like it even less when that losing side goes against the wishes of their party leaders.

But this measure is not inevitable. And it would not be a futile act for a Democrat to vote against this bill. There are matters of policy, some of them outlined by Mike Capuano (D-MA), among others. The new taxes, the increased premiums, the diminution of Congressional power, the centralized control of the health-care system, the ax taken to existing programs, etc. etc. etc.

There is the fact that, in a vote this tight (or at least the vote will be very tight if the measure passes), every vote matters. A Democrat voting no can actually help push the political debate in the direction of a targeted, sustainable reform. Voting "no" would not be an act of mere political vanity but a contribution to the contours of the public debate.

There is also the matter of political survival, a not wholly unworthy political motivation. Even if the Congress does pass a radioactive health-care bill, every Democrat need not be stuck on a sinking ship. Indeed, the best way to distance oneself from this measure and from an unpopular Congress would be to take a stand against a bill so unpopular, so toxic, that leadership doesn't even want to talk about the mechanisms of getting it passed and may even hope to allow members of Congress to vote for Obamacare without actually voting for it. That's the level of conviction that leadership has about this bill. Democrats serious about standing up against cronyism and secrecy and public venom could do worse than attacking the bill and its process. A personal connection with voters---one in part forged by listening to them and standing with them against this bill---could go a long way in November.

All of this is to say that the passage of this bill is not inevitable, and opponents of the Senate bill should not lose hope. The full strength of the national Democratic machine is being brought to bear against waverers and Congressional free-thinkers. But public activism defeated this machine in Massachusetts in January. There's no reason to believe that the public's Army of Davids can't win the rematch, too.

Michelle Malkin has a great roundup of resources for those interested in stopping the Obamacare train. Between phone calls, email addresses, and public demonstrations, there is plenty that private citizens can do to push back against the machine. Every vote matters here. Opponents of Obamacare need to focus on wavering Democrats who voted "yes" as well as "no" on Obamacare. Here's a good list, which shows the "no" votes have an advantage. Opponents should not merely focus on moderate and right-leaning Democrats; they should also make common cause with lefty opponents of Obamacare, many of whom have sensible reasons for opposing it.

There are a number of subterranean cracks in Pelosi's coalition, many of them covered over by the thinnest layer of dirt. If she does have a majority (which is, at the moment, a big assumption), it isn't a strong one. The right amount of pressure, debate, and public scrutiny could shatter that fragile alliance of partisanship, ideology, and fear.

Now, as the health-care battle recommences---now is not the time to give up hope.

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