How Did Mike Enzi Become One of the Six Senators Deciding Health-Care Reform?
Jon Cohn has an excellent post about the peculiar presence of Sen. Mike Enzi in Max Baucus's health-care working group. Enzi is not an Olympia Snowe or an Arlen Specter. He's one of the most conservative members of the Senate. As Cohn documents, his amendments during the Health Committee's process were all in the direction of cutting apart subsidies or giving insurers more freedom to risk select. That would be fine were he just one member on a committee of 15. But he is one of six. And no one in that room is as liberal as Enzi is conservative.
Enzi's presence, though, gets to one of the real peculiarities of the Senate. Not all moderates are dealmakers. And not all dealmakers are moderates. Enzi is a dealmaker. He's good at working across party lines. He has a well-respected staff and an engaging personal manner. He is in that room because Baucus believes him the sort of Republican who knows how to cut a deal. Like Ted Kennedy or Orrin Hatch, he is far from the center of the Senate, but able to work with the other party when he can find agreement.
What that means, though, is that like Ted Kennedy or Orrin Hatch, he doesn't usually sign onto legislation he doesn't support. He's not one of the centrists content to cut deals around the edge of a bill. If Enzi is to support this bill, it will have to be conservative enough to win his support. But it is hard to imagine such a bill getting through the 10 Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee who have been locked out of these negotiations or the 60 Democrats in the Senate who can't get in the door or the 256 Democrats who form the liberal-leaning majority in the House of Representatives.
It is hard, in other words, to imagine a bill that Enzi supports remaining a bill that Enzi supports. And Enzi, and Baucus, can see that as easily as I can. Which leaves the question of what, exactly, everybody's end game is here. Once this bill leaves Baucus's committee, Baucus has no control over it, and the deals he cut have no force. Indeed, the only real chance that his deal has to survive the legislative process intact is if the recess leaves health-care reform so unpopular that desperate Democrats will support anything a few Republicans will attach their names to. In that way, the delay forced by Baucus's meetings may be very good for Baucus's deal, if not for health-care reform as a whole.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta.
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