The Democrats wheedled, cajoled, begged, and finally abandoned its defense of abortion — truly a watershed moment — in order to get their version of ObamaCare passed … in the House of Representatives, where they enjoy a 75-seat majority. In the end, they could only muster a five-vote win on Nancy Pelosi’s bill out of that strong majority. Until this week, most had assumed that any ObamaCare bill would pass the House easily, but that the fight would be in the Senate.
So what does this 220-215 vote tell us? Capitol Hill Democrats know that this bill is an albatross. It’s true that Pelosi was able at the end to negotiate votes to allow a few at-risk Democrats that supported the bill to oppose it in the final vote, but even that tells a tale of fear and consciousness of unpopularity. The razor-thin vote, as well as a number of earlier, more sincere defections, show that this bill was a radical and expensive approach to fix a 13% problem — and even most of the Democrats know it.
Now the focus swings to the Senate, where Harry Reid will have to gain supermajorities at least twice to allow the bill to proceed to a final vote. That seems unlikely, although not impossible. The process will slow down considerably from the jam-down Pelosi conducted in the lower chamber, perhaps even to a crawl if Tom Coburn makes good on his threat to have the bill read in its entirety on the Senate floor. That will leave plenty of time for ObamaCare opponents to find all of the taxes, mandates, and government intrusions that will make it even less popular as it sits in the Senate. Even before Coburn’s threat, Democrats had pushed expectations for the bill out to late January — which makes the politics of the bill even more fraught for Democrats, at the start of an election year.
Democrats have another problem, even in the House. The Senate is not considering the Pelosi plan, but one they wrote themselves. Unless Reid pulls his own bill out of consideration and substitutes Pelosi’s — which is a possibility — that sets up a conference committee and second vote in each chamber, assuming that the Senate passes anything at all. If that happens, a conference committee will have to meet to produce another bill that would then go for a full floor vote in each chamber. If abortion funding makes its way back into the bill, or if mandates or taxes increase, or if conscience protections get stripped, then all of the hurdles that Pelosi barely cleared the first time return, and without the ability to amend the bill (conference reports get straight up-or-down votes without amendments in order to have both chambers pass identical legislation for the President to sign.) That means another shot at a filibuster and a lengthy bill reading in the Senate, and at least a chance to hold Bart Stupak’s pro-life coalition in the House under the spotlight to find out whether they will vote their conscience or bow to Pelosi.
We always thought the fight was in the Senate, so the only real surprise yesterday was how weak Pelosi actually was on ObamaCare. Our focus now has to shift to those red-state Senators who will have to explain to voters their potential support of a bill that imposes unconstitutional mandates and trillions of dollars in new costs on a government that can’t pay its bills now. And in this case, we’ll only need two of them to stop the runaway tyranny of the Democratic agenda.