If Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama sounded pugilistic on Monday about pursuing ObamaCare in the wake of a theoretical Scott Brown victory on Tuesday, by Tuesday night they sounded positively Roberto Duran-ish. Pelosi had insisted that Congress would pass a bill regardless of the outcome in Massachusetts, but as the New York Times reports, her caucus has other ideas. Instead of “combative” approaches, it’s beginning to look more like “No mas!”
House approval of the Senate plan was favored by some lawmakers and strategists as a way to quickly resolve the issue and deliver the president a bill on a signature domestic achievement with just one final House vote. Remaining problems could be worked out with a subsequent piece of legislation.
But many House Democrats expressed deep reservations about the Senate bill, and those complaints, combined with the message sent by the Massachusetts electorate, apparently were sufficient to leave Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her lieutenants reluctant by Tuesday night about moving in that direction.
Democrats now face decisions on whether to give up on the health care fight — an approach few lawmakers appear willing to entertain — or perhaps pull together a scaled-back measure and use special procedural rules that would eliminate the need for 60 votes in the Senate. But it is not clear how many of the key provisions of the legislation could be passed under such a procedure.
What can’t get passed under reconciliation? Insurance mandates for one, which means that the Democrats will lose the insurance lobby. State exchanges can’t get passed either, nor the end of existing-condition limitations on insurance issuance. Reconciliation only works for budgetary issues, so all of the Medicare cuts, Medicaid expansions, and new taxes can pass through this process — but those are the least popular elements of ObamaCare.
Furthermore, some of Pelosi’s progressive caucus seems ready to declare “no mas!” on this version of the bill. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) blamed the backroom deals for the anger in Massachusetts and indicated that his party needed to jettison it in order to clean the slate:
Noting that the election in Massachusetts turned on a variety of different factors like the economy and local issues, Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland and a top party campaign strategist, said resistance to the emerging health legislation also figured in the anti-Democratic equation.
“Health care was also part of the debate, and the people of Massachusetts were right to be upset about provisions in the Senate bill like the Nebraska purchase and other special deals,” Mr. Van Hollen said, referring to elements included in the bill to win the votes of Democratic senators and round up 60 votes.
That doesn’t sound like a man ready to face political death on the hill of the Senate version of the bill. Certainly part of the anger ObamaCare has generated comes from the “stinky” manner in which Democrats have conducted themselves on its construction, to quote Karl Rove on Fox News last night. That’s at least a palatable spin, especially for Democratic progressives who lost the public option in the Senate when Harry Reid secretly rewrote the entire bill last month.
Moderates have also called for a halt to the effort. Jim Webb, whose home state elected a Republican governor in a bellwether election two months ago, said that further action would be inappropriate until after Scott Brown took his seat in the Senate. Reid seems to have capitulated on that point, saying that Brown will get sworn in as soon as Massachusetts provides documentation certifying his election — which may mean that an informal letter from Secretary of State William Galvin of the kind issued for Niki Tsongas will suffice. Galvin promised to provide one for a clear winner of yesterday’s election, and Brown’s five-point win seems to assure it.
For the moment, it seems as though ObamaCare has been stopped. But that doesn’t mean that it’s dead.
Update: Bruce Kesler has ten suggestions for Republicans on health-care reforms most people can support.