Democrats have a health-care plan, but do they have the votes?
By Ben Pershing
For the last several months, Democrats have been arguing amongst themselves over not just the substance of health-care reform but also the process. For better or worse, the latter argument is over.
"The White House called for a 'simple up-or-down' vote on health care legislation Sunday," the Associated Press writes, adding: "In voicing support for a simple majority vote, White House health reform director Nancy-Ann DeParle signaled Obama's intention to push the Democratic-crafted bill under Senate rules that would overcome GOP stalling tactics. Republicans unanimously oppose the Democratic proposals. Without GOP support, Obama's only chance of emerging with a policy and political victory is to bypass the bipartisanship he promoted during his televised seven-hour health care summit Thursday." Kent Conrad, a leading Senate budget hawk, said on "Face the Nation" that "it would be unreasonable and impossible to use reconciliation for the broad overhaul of health insurance reforms, but those have already passed the Senate. The reconciliation package 'would be very limited,' Conrad said, dealing with items such as affordability credits and Medicaid expansion," Roll Call writes.
Democrats have a plan, but do they have the votes? "DeParle said on Sunday she thinks Democrats will secure enough ayes on the measure and signaled that the administration could be moving toward trying to pass it along party lines," the Washington Post writes. In the House, "Nancy Pelosi says she is confident she will be able to get the votes needed to pass sweeping health care legislation in the House, even if it threatens the political careers of some members of her party," the New York Times reports. Jonathan Cohn writes that "a variety of administration officials, congressional staff, and lobbyists have said in the past few days they feel the odds for passage are higher than they have been at any time since January, when Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts took away the Democrats' filibuster-proof margin in the Senate. That's not what a lot of the recent media coverage suggests, I know. But I'm inclined to think these sources are right and the media coverage is wrong." Politico reports that Pelosi's chief of staff, John Lawrence, told liberal activists on a conference call Friday that Democrats were "reasonably confident" they could pass a reconciliation package.
"The vote count may get tricky," Bloomberg writes, noting that Robert Wexler, Neil Abercrombie and John Murtha are all gone or leaving Congress, while Joseph Cao -- the only GOP vote the last time around -- has said he'll vote no this time. With Abercrombie's resignation taking effect today, USA Today says, "With each passing day it gets more difficult for the Democrats to pass health care. Literally." And, of course, there's Bart Stupak and his coalition of anti-abortion lawmakers. On Friday, the Los Angeles Times reports, "the influential United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which helped get the Stupak provision into the House bill last year, renewed its criticism of the Senate language." Politico says Democrats "are racing to keep Republicans from defining the only legislative tool left to salvage the health care reform bill as yet another tactic hatched in a Democratic back room. During a year in which 'deal' is a dirty word, Democratic congressional leaders are already waging a battle to defend reconciliation and beat back Republican charges that the fast-track rules are an abuse of power." As for the timing, the Wall Street Journal adds that "Pelosi said Sunday the House could unveil specific legislative language for the measure in a matter of days. Those would give more detail to the president's proposed changes to the Senate bill designed to appeal to House lawmakers."
Even if the bill passes strictly along party lines, so what? John Harwood writes that Democrats and Republicans share "a dedication to party unity as an overriding imperative -- and a relentlessly improving track record of achieving it. As they try to govern with President Obama, Democrats recognize in minority Republicans the same obstructionism they practiced at the expense of President George W. Bush and his party. 'To be negative is easy, I know that,' Speaker Nancy Pelosi told columnists recently in describing Republican tactics. 'That's how we won the House.' That is also the flaw in the argument that Democrats would exacerbate polarization by enacting a comprehensive health care overhaul without Republican support. Polarization on Capitol Hill has already reached near-perfect levels." E.J. Dionne says, "The word 'partisanship' is typically accompanied by the word 'mindless.' That's not simply insulting to partisans; it's also untrue. If we learn nothing else in 2010, can we please finally acknowledge that our partisan divisions are about authentic principles that lead to very different approaches to governing?" Evan Thomas thinks "the problem is not the system. It's us--our 'got mine' culture of entitlement. Politicians, never known for their bravery, precisely represent the people. Our leaders are paralyzed by the very thought of asking their constituents to make short-term sacrifices for long-term rewards."
Speaking of health, "President Obama, 48, passed his physical exam Sunday, though the results show he should watch his diet and keep up his efforts to quit smoking," USA Today writes. Time says, "The doctor also recommends that Obama 'continue smoking cessation efforts.' No word on whether he's been sneaking any smokes." AP has a handily specific fact box -- "Weight: 179.9 pounds, including shoes and workout attire." Obama's cholesterol and blood pressure have both gone up since taking office, but he was still pronounced "fit for duty," as several reports note. (What's the bar for that description? What did the doctors say about Dick Cheney?)
On the agenda this week, McClatchy reported Sunday: "Congress will pass legislation aimed at keeping certain jobless benefits, highway and transit money and other government programs funded, Sen. Jon Kyl , the Senate's No. 2 Republican, said Sunday. But the approval is highly unlikely to come before Monday morning. Several programs expire at midnight, and Congress has failed to extend them because of an objection by Sen. Jim Bunning , R- Ky. Bunning wants the $10 billion price offset by budget reductions. The Senate is not expected to act until Tuesday at the earliest, which means that as of Monday morning, certain extended jobless benefits will not be available. Neither will some highway or transit funds, small business loans or help for newly-laid off workers for their insurance premiums." Federal Eye reports that "federal funding for major road construction projects and national anti-drunk driving campaigns dried up Sunday night" because of Bunning's stand.
There's also movement on financial regulatory reform. "Senate Banking Committee negotiators, working through the weekend, agreed to drop the stand-alone consumer agency sought by the Obama administration and opposed by the banking industry, removing an obstacle that has stalled new U.S. financial rules," Bloomberg reports. Paul Krugman is gloomy: "So here's the situation. We've been through the second-worst financial crisis in the history of the world, and we've barely begun to recover: 29 million Americans either can't find jobs or can't find full-time work. Yet all momentum for serious banking reform has been lost. The question now seems to be whether we'll get a watered-down bill or no bill at all. And I hate to say this, but the second option is starting to look preferable."
Aside from talking about health care, "Pelosi predicted Sunday that Democrats will retain their majority in the fall, in no small part because the party is already bracing itself for what it knows will be a difficult election," the Fix notes. Pelosi is standing by Charlie Rangel, but Peter Beinart argues that "the ethically challenged congressional baron is endangering the Democrats' control of Congress. ... To understand why the Rangel scandals are so dangerous for Democrats, you need to understand something about midterm landslides: They're usually composed of three parts. First, the other party's activists are highly motivated. Second, your own activists are highly unmotivated. Third, independents want to burn Washington to the ground. ... A Democratic source says party pollsters are picking up rumblings that the Rangel scandal is starting to register with the public. If Pelosi and the White House wait until the ethics committee hands down its final verdict, it may be too late."
Looking ahead, Roll Call has a report on what may be the best post-November race -- Schumer vs. Durbin for Senate Majority Leader: "Charles Schumer (N.Y.) helped fellow Democrat Bob Casey (Pa.) get a seat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee last year, while Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) gave up his chairmanship of a powerful Judiciary subcommittee to Sen. Arlen Specter when the Pennsylvanian switched parties from the GOP last spring. In 2006, Schumer helped persuade several Democrats to vote for Sen. Mary Landrieu's (D-La.) bill to increase oil drilling; in 2007, Durbin helped Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)get a consumer product safety bill squeezed into a packed floor schedule. As Durbin and Schumer eye a potential race for Senate Majority Leader this fall, the winner is likely to be decided not on the basis of either lawmakers' political bent or ability to spin in front of the TV cameras, but on what the rank and file really care about: What have you done for me lately?"
March 1, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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