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Will Democrats kill the health-care bill?

One thing I don't want to do is be a soothsayer on the special election in Massachusetts. I have no interest in telling anybody that it's not bad for Democrats. It is. Much of the race has turned on Coakley's comically awful candidacy (Shake hands? With voters? Eeeeewwww!), but some of it is about unemployment and anger at Democrats and banks and other forces that will dominate the midterm election. If a liberal won a Senate seat in Alabama, Democrats would be partying in the streets, and they'd be right to do so.

But just as you don't want to deny the reality of the electoral situation, nor do you want to ignore the reality of the governing situation. Democrats have a health-care bill that is inches from the finish line. It has passed five committees and both chambers of Congress. Even if Brown wins, it would still command a large majority in the Senate -- but it would be one vote away from a supermajority, and so the minority could mount a parliamentary maneuver to kill it.

The bill, however, doesn't have to go back through the Senate. It could be passed by the House and signed by the president. House Democrats are reticent to do that, because there are compromises and tweaks and modifications they want made. But those changes are far too small to be worth killing the bill over. And they could be added to the bill separately, through the 51-vote reconciliation process.

The bottom line here is that if the health-care bill fails, it will be Democrats who killed it, not Scott Brown. And people should be clear on that point.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 19, 2010; 2:55 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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It was Baccus and the conservadems who are holding the knife that was plunged into the heart of HCR. Still, I have always been a fan of getting whatever we could through normal (read 60 vote) channels and getting the rest through reconciliation.

Posted by: srw3 | January 19, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Keeping pushing that narrative, Ezra.


Posted by: toshiaki | January 19, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

The Dems will kill it. They are spineless idiots. They are ruled by fear, intimidated by Fox, and incapable to learning from history, let alone standing up for what is good for anyone but the banksters.

And oddly, a liberal would never win in MS or AL. But a loon can win in MA.

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 19, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

A-freaking-men. And sadly I also have a hard time shaking AZProgressive's description of DC Democrats as spineless idiots, but I desperately hope they'll prove me wrong this time.

Posted by: Chris_O | January 19, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Keep hammering that point, Ezra - early and often. You/Chait/Cohn/Marshall have been a rapid response team on this point as some Dems went insta-wobble...perhaps they'll listen. As you wrote many months ago, there's no shame in getting elected, accomplishing something major, and then getting voted out - which is usually not the way it works in any case. But tell that to some of the weak venal hearts in Congress....well, do tell them. Keep telling them.

Posted by: privacy3 | January 19, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

you've gotta admire progressives that keep banging their head against that wall. But again if Dems had the supermajority and fell all over themselves not passing even a level playing field public option wouldn't logic dictate that a Brown win in MA would scare the bejeesus (sp) out of the Dems so much so they'd all run for the hills even though they still have an almost super-majority. I for one can't wait until the day that the Dems lose the House majority and Ms. Pelosi is forced to give up her speaker position. I can just picture her pulling the gavel with all her might not to want to give it up. It'll be a sight to see.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Stuffing the Senate bill down the throat of House democrats is the quickest way to ensure that dems lose their hold on the House sooner than later.

Those who think that the Senate health care bill is more important than the House maintaining its integrity and position of counterbalance to the Senate will be sorely disappointed when all other legislative initiatives begin to fail. And fail they will, not the least because the House will lose its dem majority sooner than later if push comes to shove with the Senate HCR bill.

Those who think it is ok for the House to be a sacrificial lamb in the carnage that has become D.C. politics should be given a one-way ticket to China, where unicameralism reigns supreme.

And when you have unicameralism governed by a tyranny of the minority, you have all of the makings for a descent into the dark ages.

People thought the lost decade in Japan was bad. Well, they haven't seen anything yet. They'll be calling this the lost generation in American history.

Posted by: jc263field | January 19, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I love it when you get mad. ;)

I haven't heard much about how this happened. Did EVERYONE (not just Martha), including DNC, Rahm, The Prez, et al, "just assume" it was in the bag?

Did they fail, early on, to connect the dots that led to the blinking, neon sign: "Mass seat = HCR"??

Or did they think HCR would be signed by Prez before MASS election?

Posted by: onewing1 | January 19, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

People should be clear on this point as well: throughout the fall, when many pro-reform progressives recognized the fragility of the 60-vote strategy, we all advocated for a better bill (one with a PO) through reconciliation, despite the potential pitfalls of that process. We were repeatedly told by EK and Yglesias and others that it was far better to pursue the super-majority strategy. In fact, we were told a lot of things: that Joe Lieberman wasn't really serious about a filibuster, that Olympia Snowe would heed the call of history, that Ben Nelson was merely posturing for more pork. Once the Senate bill passed on Christmas Eve, these pundits pivoted to speculating about the conference version, excise taxes, exchanges and so on -- and while they were dancing prematurely in the endzone, Scott Brown moved stealthily up in the polls.

Now EK wakes up to trumpet the beauty of reconciliation. Hoo boy.

When the GOP declared back in the summer they would make healthcare reform Obama's "Waterloo," they meant what they said and they said what they meant. Those of us raised in Republican families in red states knew they were going to fight to the death on this issue -- hence the skittishness of the Blue Dogs. I hope and pray that the Dems ping-pong this quickly. Meanwhile, though, please spare us any sermon about what House Dems should and shouldn't do, as no one advocated more vociferously for the 60-vote strategy than you.

Posted by: scarlota | January 19, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse


reconciliation is not beautiful. It is an ugly ugly process (just as ugly whenever the Republicans used it although it will be perceived as worse because R's used it for tax cuts, ie positive and Dems will use it for healthcare, a truly personal thing to every American) that will energize the conservative base that will feel their voices (ie elections in MA if it continues as expected and NJ and VA governers races) are not being heard. It will only hasten (IMO) the end of not only the democrats super-majority but their majority also. Keep walking down that path democrats and I'll see the day Ms. Nancy gives up her gavel.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Survival usually wins over "doing the right thing". If this holds true a Brown victory kills HC reform. Can Pelosi convince any (much less several) House Dems to cast a vote that ends their tenure in Congress?

Posted by: MBP2 | January 19, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

No one will care in 8 months how HCR got passed as long as it becomes law and

-no more recissions
-no more preexisting conditions
-expansion of medicaid

So much beltway whining. Dems need to pass some kind of HCR or they will lose the house. They may lose it anyway, but without a victory on the single biggest item on their agenda, they will surely lose it. Might as well do the right thing and pass it.

Posted by: srw3 | January 19, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse


you neglected to mention all the lovely new taxes while we've still got double-digit unemployment that are going to further exascerbate Dems problems along with a fragile economy and the soon to end stimulus spending that's been propping up states for the last year. Sure they should do it, but the $64,000 question is do they have the stones to do it if they can't even do it when they've got the all powerful super-majority. I doubt it. Either way they're toast.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2010 4:49 PM | Report abuse


As a Mass Democrat, I have to ask:

Where the heck did you hear that Martha Coakley does not like shaking hands with voters?

Posted by: JoelPatterson | January 19, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, passing the senate bill and going for improvements through reconciliation is still the best bet especially for house democrats. They already voted for HCR once, and the repiglicans won't let the voters forget it. It will look better if their votes actually counted for something rather than being pilloried for voting for HCR and then flip flopping on it and having nothing to show for the vote. Besides the senate bill is more palatable to blue dog dems so it should be an easier vote for them.

Posted by: srw3 | January 19, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

The thing is the House bill barely passed with just 5 votest to spare. Do you really think all those Democrats who voted for the Stupak amendment will vote for the Senate bill which is much more liberal on abortion? Bart Stupak has already said he won't and Joseph Cao will also vote against it so there goes 2 of your 5 votes. There is absolutely no garuntee that Pelosi can round up enough Democrats to even vote out the Senate bill as is.

Posted by: RobT1 | January 19, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

"The bottom line here is that if the health-care bill fails, it will be Democrats who killed it, not Scott Brown. And people should be clear on that point."

I agree that Democrats will bear the culpability for a failure but not for the reasons you cite.

In all the hand wringing that is going on over Massachusetts, I have yet to hear anyone who supports the current bill explain how it could be that a candidate who has sworn to defeat a Massachusetts style system for the nation would have any sort of following in that state. If residents of Massachusetts Connection are as enamoured of their program as was claimed, why would Brown's message have so much resonance there.

The Democrats who killed health care reform were those who started the year in conferences with everyone but their own constituencies -- lobbyists, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, etc. They traded any possibility of reform for a poverty program and tried to pursuade all the people who voted for actual reform that more of the same would be good enough. They abandoned the goal of universal coverage and bought into the myth that a "uniquely American", patchwork of inequality would suffice.

It's not true that we'll have to wait another 15 years to address this: we'll just have to wait for some leadership that understands the difference between policy and politics.

Posted by: Athena_news | January 19, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse


yes but won't reconcilation face issues that it faced before related to non budgetary impacts being stricken out? I don't see reconciliation as a viable option or they would have done it before. The best/almost only chance is to just do the senate version through the house and I don't know that you'd get the left on board. With Brown's victory you're already seeing Dems jumping as if they were on the Titanic. Its a shame because I think the Senate version isn't that bad of reform and it would cover 94% of the people although I'd rather more cost controls and a shorter time frame on biologics. I do especially enjoy the shady deal with the unions that would be forced to go by the wayside. Serves them right. you know what they say about karma.


you may be waiting MORE than 15 years if you're waiting for that combination of understanding of politics and policy.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 19, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

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