Morgen on November 6, 2009 at 4:37 pm
With the announcement today that the House vote on ObamaCare will likely be delayed past Saturday (because Pelosi does not have the votes), I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wonder whether the entire effort is on the verge of collapsing. Lingering issues over abortion funding and immigrant access to government healthcare are getting all the headlines. And perhaps some finessing over these issues is all that stands in the way of the bill passing in the House. But the real threat to the success of ObamaCare is lurking right beneath the surface. In truth, most Democrats in the House like the bill only slightly more than the Republicans who despise it.
In late July, 60 members of the House progressive caucus signed a letter to Speaker Pelosi clearly stating that they would not vote for a bill which did not include a public option based on Medicare rates. It’s an open secret that these members have long been in favor of a single payer system, and a “robust” public option has become code for a system which more rapidly leads in this direction. The only problem is that the bill Pelosi is bringing to a floor vote does not include a public option based on Medicare rates, but rather rates negotiated by the HHS Secretary.
And even more galling to these hardcore single payer supporters, Pelosi today reneged on an earlier promise to allow a floor vote on single payer as a substitute for the entire bill. Of course this measure was never expected to pass, but it was viewed by liberals as a symbolic opportunity to demonstrate their preference for single payer as the best solution. And it was a hard won deal by progressives for not balking at earlier concessions which were given to moderate Democrats in order to pass the bill out of committee. So the fact that the House leadership backed out of this commitment at the eleventh hour can’t sit well with many of them.
Then you have a group of over 50 moderate, “Blue Dog” Democrats – many of whom would prefer having no public option at all, and almost all of whom are extremely uncomfortable with the $1.2 trillion price tag of the bill. And even more so after the election results earlier this week.
So here’s the problem. Whether the House passes a bill this weekend or not, there is absolutely no chance that the Senate will pass a bill that resembles the House version. In all likelihood, the Senate won’t even vote on a bill before the end of the year. And when they do, it’s highly unlikely that it will include a public option at all – and the total price tag is likely to be closer to the $900 billion limit set by the President. (Due to less generous insurance subsidies for middle-class workers.)
So you have a progressive caucus of Democrats who are being pressured by House leadership to support a version of a bill they have previously vowed to vote against, knowing full well that the final product will be even less tolerable to them and their liberal base. And then you have the Blue Dog caucus who are being asked to sacrifice their very careers in support of a bill that has zero chance of passing the full Congress in it’s present form.
I’ll say one thing: if Pelosi can pull this off successfully this weekend she deserves an enormous amount of credit for her political skills. (Although she may very well lose her own leadership position next year as a result.)
But what if she can’t? It’s pretty clear that the reason she is forcing a vote now is that the effort is losing momentum with each passing week. Could it survive a failed vote this weekend? Of course it won’t be put to a vote unless they are sure they have the numbers, but no amount of spin and damage control over another delay will hide the fact that they failed to pass the bill.
Here’s my prediction. Somehow, someway they will manage to pass this thing with the narrowest of margins. Perhaps by only 1 or 2 votes, and probably late Saturday night or early Sunday. But while this will undoubtably be touted as a historical achievement, it does not bode well for what is likely to be a much more difficult and extended process in the Senate. And at this stage, it’s near impossible to envision a reconciled bill that will garner enough overall support, even if the Senate is successful. Not unless the progressive caucus is prepared to completely sell out their principles.
So the Administration has a long way to go on this, even under the best case scenario. I hope it ends up being worth it to them because succeed or fail, it will be at the expense of advancing other items on their agenda. Arguably, this has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for conservatives. Cap and trade and immigration reform are now all but dead, and in just a few short months we’ve seen a massive increase in energy and support for our movement. Thanks to ObamaCare, fiscal conservatism is back.