One of the more intriguing parts of the budget deal announced late last night was a commitment from Harry Reid to allow two floor votes on Republican legislative priorities, both of which would never have otherwise seen in the Senate chamber before 2013. The first is the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, a rider that got stripped out of last night’s final compromise, which would have an uncertain future in the Senate anyway. The second, though, holds a great deal more promise, and a great deal of political risk for Democrats:
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed to remove the Planned Parenthood provision in exchange for an agreement that would allow Congress to take up the funding issue separately.The Republicans also won inclusion of a provision that will require the Senate to vote on a bill to de-fund the health care reform law.
This codicil didn’t even get a mention in other news reports, but could be one of the more significant aspects of the agreement. The House has already worked on a bill to repeal ObamaCare, which before now had absolutely no chance of consideration while Harry Reid ran the Senate. As we repeatedly pointed out during the election, repeal of ObamaCare will be impossible until at least 2013, when we have an opportunity to elect and install a new President who will sign such a bill, even had we won control of the Senate.
So this isn’t important because it holds some new hope for a quicker repeal. Rather, it forces Democrats to defend the massive government expansion of control yet again, this time closer to the 2012 election. Democrats didn’t run on ObamaCare in 2010, except in reliably liberal districts for House races, and the last thing they need in an already-difficult cycle is another reminder to voters of the unpopular program. By forcing a floor vote in this agreement, Reid will have to get his caucus — now reduced to 53 rather than 59 — to entirely back ObamaCare in a new vote.
That means Senators like Bill Nelson in Florida will have to back it, even with the latest Quinnipiac poll showing voters there opposing it 41/49 more than a year after its rollout. Jon Tester in Montana will have to explain yet again to his constituents why he wants the IRS to be health-insurance cops. Claire McCaskill already has enough problems in Missouri, as does Ben Nelson in Nebraska. Even Democrats running for re-election in 2014 — like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor in Arkansas — will have to go back on the record to support it in order to keep the repeal from passing Congress, and that comes after the clear expression of voter disapproval in last year’s midterms.
Of course, even if that happened, Obama would veto it, but that creates problems for him as well. If Democrats peel away from ObamaCare and he has to veto it to keep it in place, he suddenly looks very extreme and out of touch. He’d have to explain why his only real legislative accomplishment has become so toxic that his own party doesn’t back it any more, which would put him even further on the defensive and eliminate the “GOP used scare tactics” defense of ObamaCare that he’ll undoubtedly use on the campaign trail.
Frankly, I’m surprised Reid and Obama agreed to this. This has zero upside for Democrats heading into 2012, and looks like a political trap.
Update: AJ Strata was already on my wavelength on this.
Update II: The first two commenters believe Reid will renege on his promise, but that would also be political suicide. Reid already has proven inept in budgeting matters, and if he breaks an agreement now, there will be hell to pay on the campaign trail in 2012 for it. That will be an NRSC ad in every Senate race, asking voters whether they want to send a Democrat to the Senate and leave a lying welcher in charge.