While Democrats insist that they can push ObamaCare through Congress using reconciliation, their media allies seem unconvinced. The New York Times offers a rather glum view of the chances of getting either the Senate or the House to pass the bills necessary to make the strategy work. Without the Stupak language to give them cover on the abortion issue, dozens of Ayes on the original bill will turn to Nays, and the rapidly-approaching midterms may convince even more to jump ship:
Under the Democrats’ tentative plans, the House would pass the health care bill approved in December by the Senate, and both chambers would approve a separate package of changes using a parliamentary device known as budget reconciliation.
The tactic is intended to avoid a Republican filibuster, but in the Senate, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, faces challenges if he tries to use it. He is having trouble persuading a majority of his caucus to go along.
In the House, lawmakers like Mr. Kratovil, Mr. Cardoza and other swing Democrats will come under increasing scrutiny from leadership as a vote draws near. Of the 219 Democrats who initially voted in favor of the House measure, roughly 40 did so in part because it contained the so-called Stupak amendment, intended to discourage insurers from covering abortion.
Some, notably Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat for whom the amendment is named, will almost certainly switch their yes votes to no because the new version being pushed by Mr. Obama would strip out the House bill’s abortion restrictions in favor of Senate language that many of them consider unacceptable.
An additional 39, like Mr. Kratovil, are fiscal conservatives who voted no the first time around. Ms. Pelosi is hoping that she can get some to switch those no votes to yes in favor of Mr. Obama’s less expensive measure.
But persuading Democrats who are already on record as opposing a health overhaul to do a turnabout will not be an easy task, especially during a midterm election year in which Democrats’ political prospects already look bleak. Of the 39 Democrats who voted against the House measure, 31, including Mr. Kratovil, represent districts that were won in 2008 by Senator John McCain of Arizona, Mr. Obama’s Republican rival. Fourteen, including Mr. Kratovil, are freshmen, who are generally considered more politically vulnerable than more senior lawmakers.
The first House version passed by five votes, but that included some stage management by Nancy Pelosi to give a few Democrats the opportunity to vote no to save their political skins. That, however, was almost four months ago, when the midterms were a full year away. Now, some of these Democrats have to start planning primary campaigns in traditionally center-right districts.
How many votes did Pelosi really have as a buffer on that vote? No one is quite sure, but two things are certain. She doesn’t have nearly as many this time around, and those Representatives that got to vote no the first time to save their skins won’t vote yes this time around. If they reverse themselves now while the bill becomes even less popular with voters, they may as well skip the re-election campaigns and sell their Beltway condos now.
As for the kamikaze strategy, the Times makes a short but trenchant point:
But politicians do not want to be martyrs. They want to hold onto their seats.
Pelosi has another problem in pushing the House end of the bargain. If the House passes the Senate version, all it takes to become law is Obama’s signature — and that means no public option, a tax on union health-care plans, and no surcharge on the rich. Progressives in the House have to trust that the Senate will actually pass a reconciliation package fixing all the problems in their current version to the satisfaction of the House progressive caucus. They won’t pass the Senate version without it, even if all of the above conditions get met.
Can Harry Reid pass a reconciliation bill? Probably not, although it’s not impossible. Democrats up for re-election this year will have great reluctance in enabling such a strategy to pass such an unpopular bill. Also, Republicans plan to offer an infinite number of amendments — which reconciliation allows them to do — to create a filibuster by other means. The more this becomes clear, the less likely the House will ever pass the Senate bill at all.
As the midterms approach, the electoral pressure will force many Democrats into obstructing reconciliation. If Reid and Pelosi can’t get it done in the next couple of weeks, it probably won’t happen.