ObamaCare: Pre-“summit” update
posted at 8:27 pm on February 24, 2010 by Karl
The pre-game coverage of tomorrow’s staged “summit” on ObamaCare starts with edgy comments from Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad:
Conrad, who has been open to reconciliation as long as the fixes are limited, said the order must be reversed. The House must pass the Senate bill first — before either chamber considers the reconciliation package, he said.
“I don’t know of any way, I don’t know of any way where you can have a reconciliation bill pass before the bill that it is meant to reconcile passes,” said Conrad, who would be a central figure on the Senate floor if Democrats embark on the complicated process. “I don’t know how you would deal with the scoring. I don’t know how I could look you in the eye and say this package reduces the deficit. It’s kind of got the cart before the horse.”
When reminded that House Democrats don’t want to do health care in that order, Conrad said bluntly: “Fine, then it’s dead.”
Conrad went on to say that he refused make any promises or symbolic gestures to House members to assure them that the Senate would address their concerns in a reconciliation bill.
FDL’s Jon Walker suggests this is a death sentence for the effort:
I simply do not believe Nancy Pelosi can ever whip the votes to pass the current Senate bill unchanged. Even with a solemn promise from Democratic senators that they would support reconciliation, I don’t believe it is possible.
Voting on the Senate bill first would require House Democrats to vote for the Cornhusker kickback, the extremely toxic excise tax, and the Nelson abortion language that Bart Stupak has called unacceptable. That vote would be bad politics even if the reconciliation fix did happen later–and there is no reason to trust that it would. The House Democrats simply don’t–and shouldn’t–trust the Senate Democrats. Also, the reconciliation fixes Obama outlined are small, and unlikely to make the unpopular Senate bill any more popular.
If (and that is a big “if”) Conrad is correct and Pelosi is wrong, the Senate bill and reconciliation sidecar strategy are really dead. I can’t see them passing the House and Democrats need to switch to a plan B.
The general expectation is that the lefties in the House Democratic caucus would cave when push comes to shove, and that the focus is really on about 15-20 votes in the middle. But if the lefties were going to cave easily, they could have done so and moved to final passage before Scott Brown got elected.
How does this basic dispute between Democrats get solved by a bit of televised political theater aimed primarily at trying to make the GOP look like the villains of the drama? The only possible way it does is if Pres. Obama somehow makes the GOP look so bad as to erase all of the distrust among Democrats (a distrust that extends far beyond ObamaCare to the 289 other unpassed House bills this session). But 77% of adults already think there won’t be a deal. Moreover, a majority opposes reconciliation and the vast majority — including nearly half of all Democrats — want Congress to start over or stop working on the issue. Obama can try to make himself look bipartisan, but most people think the Democrats should give up more ground to achieve bipartisanship. It seems unlikely that tomorrow’s dog-and-pony show will produce a seismic shift among the public or Democrats.
None of which will stop the Democrats from trying to push on, of course. But it may be that a “blame the GOP summit” will end up being used by Democrats looking to defend themselves against their base if it turns out that their Holy Grail has again slipped through their fingers.