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How Is Conrad Counting the Votes?

This is a useful reminder from Ryan Grim:

"The fact of the matter is there are not the votes in the United States Senate for the public option, there never have been, so to continue to chase that rabbit is just a wasted effort," Conrad said on Fox News Sunday.

Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota (pop. 641,481), is presumably assuming that a bill containing a public option would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But even if that is the case, not a single member of the Democratic caucus -- including Conrad himself -- has actually announced that he or she would support such a filibuster. And a few Republicans -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine -- might not support it either.

"Senator Conrad should leave the vote counting to the leadership," a peeved Democratic leadership aide told the Huffington Post.

You could have seven Democrats vote against the bill on public plan grounds and still pass it by 53. You just can't have them join a Republican filibuster against the bill. Thus far, no Democrat has evinced a willingness to filibuster health-care reform as opposed to voting against the public plan. And in this ferocious a political environment, it's hard to imagine any of them doing so. The liberal backlash would pretty much guarantee a funded primary opponent.

It's also worth saying that there's a difference between bargaining away the public plan and giving up on the public plan. Conrad is giving up on the public plan, in public, in return for nothing. He's not locked in endless deliberations and bargaining it away for solid Republican votes and higher subsidies.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 17, 2009; 7:07 PM ET
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Vote counting is a necessary evil: in response to your "What's Actually Going on With the Public Option?" post, a commenter (Jasper99 at 10:38 AM) has a pretty good take on the vote-count/etc issue.

By continuing to push legislation unacceptable to citizens, legislators risk (a) loss of power, (b) "massive resistance" such as that seen after Brown v. Board of Ed., and (c) disfavorable historical note.

Equally importantly, WaPo today has some good survey data regarding the Virginia Gubernatorial race. How many swing states can be lost before the entire "game" is lost?

Posted by: rmgregory | August 17, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

can you imagine the uproar if a health reform package was filerbustered?

Posted by: jamesoneill | August 17, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I have come to the conclusion that Baucus, Conrad, Nelson, Lincoln, etc., would just prefer to forget the whole idea of health care reform. A little teak here, a tiny tweak there and call it good. How else do you explain Baucus shutting out the liberals on his committee and pandering to Grassley and Enzi? Someone like Grassley will probably wind up supporting "Death Panel" Palin in Iowa.

Posted by: glewiss | August 17, 2009 8:24 PM | Report abuse

Okay then why Sen. Reid is not coming forward and 'crossing' Sen. Conrad that the public option is not taken out yet?

It is obvious that these senators from smaller states are simply making rest of the USA to dance on their tunes.

What will be worth is how Daily Kos, Move On and Huffington Post guys start taking the revenge.

It is clear that the current Democratic Party Leadership and President Obama are taking their Liberal and Net Root base for a ride. So far those guys have been on the side of anti-Bush helping and working their butt to get elected any Democrat. That really will change. It needs to change for the good of this country.

I am no fan of public option, but just it is clear that the way Democrat Leaders are giving 'shaft' to their base is disgusting. These guys do not even have spine, step forward and explain to the base what decisions they are making and why. They (including Obama) are not even trying to take the base in confidence. It is politically total sale out.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 17, 2009 8:40 PM | Report abuse

The party could easily say vote for cloture or never see a single cent. And Obama controls the party. So yes this goes back to Obama.

Posted by: endaround | August 17, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Kent Conrad is being utterly dishonest. Add to that a bill without a public option has no chance in the House. And today we hear that Grassley and now the RNC state they still won't support a bill with co-ops. Conrad is looking stupider and stupider. I say look to Chuck Schumer for the direction in the Senate caucus. He is the leader and the chair of the Senate Rules Committee that will write the bill presented to the full Senate.

Posted by: cmpnwtr | August 17, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

Sure he is.

He bargained it away for his soul in the form of contributions from the insurance industry.

He's the new Billy Tauzin.

Posted by: pj_camp | August 17, 2009 8:53 PM | Report abuse


I'm currently reading the 2006 book, "Filibuster", by Political Science Professor Gregory Wawro of Columbia and Government Professor Eric Schickler of Harvard. It's a fantastic resource for information and explanation that's hard to find.

A key question is if the Republicans truly threaten a filibuster, and if reconciliation is ruled against by the parliamentarian, in total, or for important parts of the bill, what can be done?

Suppose, there are not 60 votes for a GOOD bill. What about the nuclear option? which would have the added (I think probably great) benefit of potentially permanently destroying the filibuster.

You wrote recently in your post, "Can Democrats Have a 50-Vote Senate?" (at:

"As a general rule, if there were a foolproof way around the 60-vote threshold, the senators of one party or the other would have thought of it...But in fact, Zasloff's strategy to overwhelm a filibuster of health-care reform would shut down the United States Senate, which is not a better outcome in any obvious way."

First, Wawro and Schlickler, in fact, argue that an attempt at the nuclear option [simply ignore the rule for unlimited debate, as it is more tradition than hard and fast law] is quite plausible sometime in the near future, due to changes in the country, in the parties, and in the Senate over time.

Second with regard to the opposing party closing down the Senate in retaliation, they write:

[The opposing party] would then have two choices: either accept the resulting legislative paralysis and hope to win the ensuing public relations war...or push the fight further by using the same revolutionary tactics to curtail or remove the remaining obstructive tools used by [the opposing party]. (page 272)

That last sentence is crucial; if a majority of Democrats united behind truly destroying non-majoritarian rule, they could disregard all of these obstructing tactics, whether by 40 vote minorities, or one vote minorities – these rules are more traditions than laws, – and then we would have a majority rules Senate.

Why hasn't this happened before? The authors give many reasons. In the past these obstructive non-majority tactics were much less of a problem because they were seldom used; there was much more of an honor, civility system that discouraged it. Past crisis in obstruction were solved with new (soft, non-law) rules to limit obstruction without fully eliminating it. And they list other reasons.

It's a great book. The authors will return your phone calls; I encourage you to pick their brains.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | August 17, 2009 9:05 PM | Report abuse

"The liberal backlash would pretty much guarantee a funded primary opponent."

the same group that needs to beg borrow and make deals with pharma for funding? I read an interesting article in the NY times last week that in the midwest "Organizing for America" was having a hard time getting local folks to town halls because they were basically "emotionally spent" from the 2008 elections and come and wake them in 2011 for the 2012 elections. Sorry I don't think they'll have the funding to put a serious challenge especially in states where they are Republican or conservative in leaning. Those politicians in those districts will absolutely run in 2010 and so on, on the fact that they were AGAINST the government takeover of THEIR healthcare system. Sometimes I think some on here don't live in the real world and see the actual pulse of America. There's as many against it as there is for it and the spending is a huge concern and as the economy continues to sputter that will only get worse. States economic woes without a second stimulus (which I'm more convinced by the day won't happen) will get worse and the more and more people think about even a $500 billion government program the more they'll say no way. NOt now. Not while the economy is like this. Get the economy back to humming at 3% increase per year in GDP and then we'll tackle it. In the meantime they do need the insurance reform that will resolve a lot of the issues.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 17, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

Yes, there may be 53 votes for a bill with a public option in the Senate. However, that is no use when Democrats don't seem to have the 60 votes necessary to block any filibuster threat. The fact that Senator Kennedy was unable to attend both the freedom medal ceremony and his sister's funeral indicates that his condition has become extremely serious. Therefore, liberals should not expect him to show up for the vote on health reform on the senate floor this fall. This leaves Senators Snowe and Collins and they are unlikely to vote for a bill that contains a public option. And I think the White House is hesitant to use the reconciliation card because they are afraid of infuriating moderate Republicans who may withhold future cooperation on issues like climate change, immigration reform and revising no-child left behind.

Posted by: joshuavision | August 18, 2009 12:56 AM | Report abuse

Seems The Health Care Reform Bill is standing before Sarah Palin's imaginary death panel.

Posted by: wordbloom | August 18, 2009 1:55 AM | Report abuse

Let's call a spade a spade.

Conrad is basically trying to use republicans (who aren't even cooperating) as an excuse to write the bill the insurance companies want.

Seriously, the guy has taken more money out of these insurance companies than most of their employees have. As such, he's working for them. (As you've probably noted, he proposed a public option last year -- when that seemed the more industry friendly version of possibilities.)

His problem, and he knows it, is that after he writes their bill his version will get crushed when mixing the versions together. So, he's holding out to try to extract promises that his/insurance companies' version will win the day.

He's disgusting, and he probably knows that too. Same goes for his partner Conrad.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | August 18, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

No democrat will filibuster this bill, that's why Conrad/Baucus has a problem. It just ain't gonna happen.

They are trying to get assurances that the insurance company's version of the bill will emerge from conference -- because they know they can't afford to filibuster this. So, they are sitting and blackmailing the pres.

Posted by: rat-raceparent | August 18, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Senator Conrad's largest campaign contributor over the last five years is the Davita Corporation, a nationwide health care service provider. You don't suppose all his rhetoric about co-ops is really just about kissing up to Davita's lobby and securing his campaign contributions for the next election? I'm sure Davita would prefer to compete with a feeble co-op system rather than a substantial public adversary.

Posted by: js15633 | August 18, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

A good article on Conrad's vote counting.

Posted by: cautious | August 19, 2009 5:44 AM | Report abuse

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