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Schumer: 'We Don't Have 60 Votes.'

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Sen. Chuck Schumer's public option amendment failed, 13 to 10. Kent Conrad, Max Baucus and Blanche Lincoln opposed it. Moments before the roll call, Baucus explained that he was going to vote no, but not because he opposed the measure. Rather, he said, he believed it didn't have 60 votes on the floor, and his top priority was a bill that could pass.

To my surprise, Schumer readily accepted that analysis. "We don't have the 60 votes on the floor for the public option," he agreed. "I will be the first to admit that." He thought some smart deal making and horse-trading might get them to 60. But they weren't there yet.

There are two questions here. The first is "60 votes for what?" Do they not have 60 votes in favor of a health-care plan that includes a public option? Or do they not have 60 votes against a filibuster of a health-care plan that includes a public option? If it's the former, that's okay: You only need 51. If it's the latter, that's a bigger problem. But I'd be interested to hear which Democrats will publicly commit to filibustering Barack Obama's health-care reform bill. If that's such a popular position back home, why aren't more Democrats voicing it loudly?

Second, why give up the public option now? If these moderates want to kill the measure, let them get full credit for doing so on the floor. They can sponsor an amendment to strip it out of the final legislation and go home to their districts having played a clear and undeniable role in the elimination of the public option.

Instead, Baucus and Conrad did the work for them, all the while protesting that they didn't oppose the public option. Now the moderate bloc will need to extract something else in an eleventh-hour bargain to show that they applied their centrist convictions to the legislation. Baucus makes it sound as though he's attempting to ensure a deal. But in reality, he's just depriving the centrists of the ability to make their deal. That means they'll have to make a different one, and the bill will get worse twice rather than once.

Photo credit: By Susan Walsh — Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  September 29, 2009; 4:35 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Will Medicare -- And the Public Option -- Bankrupt Us?
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Comments

"centrist convictions"

Oxymoron.

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | September 29, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Say it over and over. Voting to end a filibuster doesn't mean you support the bill, just that the bill deserves a vote.

REPEAT until the message gets through...

Posted by: srw3 | September 29, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Schumer and Rockefeller will bring up their amendments to the floor for votes. I am sure they want to go on the record for which Senate Democrats are for the public option and which are not.

It is very important for the activist part of the Democratic party to know who voted FOR the public option and who did not. Expect the Democratic Senators who voted for the public option who are in Blue states to get LOTS OF LOVE from the activists of the Democratic party including money. Democrats who voted no will not get help from the activists.

Posted by: maritza1 | September 29, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I know Mary Landrieu is opposed to the public option but she is not on this committee. You mean Blanche Lincoln.

Posted by: hannah-pd | September 29, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

"If that's such a popular position back home, why aren't more Democrats voicing it loudly?"

Um, Rahm Emanuel...?

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | September 29, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

"Voting to end a filibuster doesn't mean you support the bill, just that the bill deserves a vote."

Right. And if you oppose it, you filibuster to keep a simple majority from passing it. The bill is opposed. Why is this so hard to understand?

Posted by: whoisjohngaltcom | September 29, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

You are missing the point. Ironically, voting down the PO in the Finance Committee makes it more likely that ultimately there will be a PO in the final bill that the President signs. Why? Because it moves the process forward. What would happen if they voted to include the PO in the bill. You think Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman would vote for cloture knwoing that a PO is in the bill? The Senate needs to pass a bill, ANY bill initially. The House needs to pass a bill, ANY bill initially. Once the bill goes to conference committee they won't need 60 votes in the Senate, it will be purely an up/down vote and they can put the PO back in there. Reconciliation would be a disaster, this is why they have to get to 60 votes for cloture, once they get passed cloture in the Senate. The fate of the PO will be in the hands of 50 senators and 218 house members. Period.

Posted by: hillery23 | September 29, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Because we don't have sixty votes, we're not going to vote for it. Hmm. I haven't heard that circular logic before. Innovative.

Where was Blanche Lincoln, eating lunch with an insurance industry lobbyist? Having dinner with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arkansas? Pathetic. The Democrats have become Republican.

Posted by: teoandchive | September 29, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

If the bill went to the Senate floor with a public option in it, one of four things would have happened:
(a) centrist democrats would vote "yes", and face the potential consequences when running for reelection;
(b) centrist democrats would vote to break the filibuster, but would vote "no" to the bill;
(c) centrist democrats would not vote to break the filibuster, and the bill dies; or
(d) there would be no vote until centrists democrats amend the bill, on the house floor, to remove the public option.

Options (a) and (b) are essentially the same thing in political terms. If you think the GOP is incapable to equating them to the electorate, you are underestimating them. Both (a) and (b) will cost some centrists democrats their seats.

Option (c) equals civil war in the Democratic party. The powers that be do not want that to happen.

Ezra appears to believe (d) is the likely outcome, and thinks amending the bill in committee to include the public option would have ended up creating a better final bill because of it. But think about it. Who is going to vote for the amendment? The centrist democrats and .... Olympia Snow? I'm not sure the Republicans generally would vote for it (and thereby give a tacit approval to the amended bill). If the Republican's don't, all you are left with is (a), (b), and (c), which all have big problems.

Kent Conrad, Max Baucus and Mary Landrieu appear to want to avoid that situation. Or maybe they are worried that going (a), even in committee, could have political consequences for them personally.

Posted by: WEW72 | September 29, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The amendments offered today were not expected to pass, but rather they were part of the continuing effort to whip support for final passage of the public option. On that score the Schumer-Cantwell amendment succeeded, since it attracted more support than expected, from Sen. Nelson (D-FL) and Sen. Carper (D-DL).

http://openleft.com/diary/15319/bill-nelson-supports-schumer-level-playing-field-public-option

Posted by: billyanelli | September 29, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

"Own Goal" Baucus strikes again!

Posted by: adamiani | September 29, 2009 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Since "a" bill will get passed out of FiCom, and will get merged with HELP, it's probably time for Ezra to walk through the Process again. I.E. merger, floor, conference, post conference and reconcilliation along with the votes needed at every step.

John

Posted by: toshiaki | September 29, 2009 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Baucus and Conrad must feel like there will be no consequences of their actions. I think they are very wrong.

Their excuse sounds just like "Hillary can't win, and Obama can't win, so lets remove them from the primaries".

I can't get the memory of the theme song from Eastwood's Hang Them High out of my head. A Democratic party with Baucus and Conrad defeated for reelection would be a far better party (including Ben Nelson and a couple of others as well). As long as the Dems can maintain 50 votes to form the majority, the weak-kneed sisters do positive harm to the nation and party.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | September 29, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Probably also good for Ezra to work the Reporter Phone to see what Schumer means on the 60, and who exactly the missing votes are. It's probably time for progressives in the Senate to start naming names on the members of the caucus who would filabuster a healthcare bill that contains the PO.

John

Posted by: toshiaki | September 29, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

No surprises today. If anything on the plus side for a PO. A less robust PO will get 51 votes, either under cloture or under budget reconiliation. PO emerges today stronger than before:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-creamer/growing-momentum-for-publ_b_303415.html

Posted by: cmpnwtr | September 29, 2009 6:03 PM | Report abuse

It's still in the house bill. So they can still extract their pound of flesh in conference.

Posted by: zosima | September 29, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

"Voting to end a filibuster doesn't mean you support the bill, just that the bill deserves a vote."

Exactly.

And like MattY is always harping about: these Senators have Agency. They *are* the votes. If they don't support it, say so ... but don't vote for a bill because there "are no votes."

PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WILL SOMEONE ask Baucus and Conrad and Nelson:
1. Do you have 60 votes to end a filibuster? If so, does a public option succeed?
2. Do you yourself support a cost-cutting public option, regardless of "the votes"?

Posted by: Chris_ | September 29, 2009 9:32 PM | Report abuse

"Options (a) and (b) are essentially the same thing in political terms. If you think the GOP is incapable to equating them to the electorate, you are underestimating them."

Equating them to the electorate [that broadly supports the public option]. If HCR suddenly becomes something the GOP can use against Dems, it won't make any difference whether the PO is there or not. Why not do it right then?

Posted by: Chris_ | September 29, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

You hit on an extremely important point. How many times do they have to go through the legislative process to get it? They need to leave something there that may or may not be a bargaining chip for the "middle" ( i.e. Snowe and Collins for the stimulus)

If you think you need to spend 1 trillion start at 1.8 trillion.

Posted by: bcbulger | September 29, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

I agree with John --
"Since "a" bill will get passed out of FiCom, and will get merged with HELP, it's probably time for Ezra to walk through the Process again. I.E. merger, floor, conference, post conference and reconcilliation along with the votes needed at every step."

I need some updates on 51 vs. 60, cloture, the whole thing -- and I bet others do too.

John

Posted by: LindaB1 | September 30, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

First Read has a great description of the whole reconciliation/filibuster issue. Check it out.
http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2009/09/29/2082655.aspx

Posted by: LindaB1 | September 30, 2009 12:21 AM | Report abuse

I listen to Ben Nelson because he's not that bright and tends to give away the game plan. He talks about a "60 vote scenario" by which I think (?) he means a unanimous consent agreement.

If there is indeed going to be a unanimous consent agreement under which no amendments can be offered which wouldn't get 60 votes, then we're going to end up with Baucuscare as the law of the land--and there may not even be another public vote on the PO. It may be time for PO advocates to start thinking about how they can kill the whole bill.

Posted by: bmull | September 30, 2009 2:05 AM | Report abuse

Can someone explain to me why the following scenario does not make sense? The blue dog Senators vote against the PO three times: once each in Committee, the floor and post conference floor. But they do vote once to allow cloture.

With this voting record, they can work both sides in the next campaign. "I voted three times against the evil Public Option and I voted once to allow other senators an opportunity to vote." So the wind is taken out of the anti gubment bloggers and Republican rivals, and liberal bloggers and funders won't go after them because they did not stand in the way of the PO. Everyone wins. Except Repubilcan Senatorial candidates who wanted to get some insurance company gravy if elected.

Posted by: WallySandaber | September 30, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

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