Melt the Phones: Senate vote Saturday to proceed on ObamaCare debate; Update: Nelson confirms a yes vote

Harry Reid plans a key procedural vote in the Senate this weekend, apparently trying to follow Nancy Pelosi’s footsteps in jamming ObamaCare down the throats of a skeptical chamber before members can hear from their constituents.  Unlike Pelosi, however, this vote will not be on the bill itself, or even to close debate.  Instead, the vote will be to open debate, and Reid has a good chance to prevail — for now:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is not making any bold predictions before Saturday’s vote to proceed on healthcare reform.

“We’ll find out when the votes are taken,” he said when asked on Thursday about  his chances of success.

Foremost among Reid’s problems are three centrist Democratic senators.

The Hill refers to Mary Landrieu (LA), Ben Nelson (NE), and Blanche Lincoln (AR), all of whom have expressed considerable skepticism over the public option that Reid included in the bill.  However, all of them could probably explain a vote to proceed to debate, especially since Reid will eventually have to hold another cloture vote to end debate — the final filibuster point — and they could just as easily defect at that point to maintain credibility with independents in their constituencies.  Reid might still get a couple of Republicans to agree to open debate as well, for the same reasons.

In fact, Reid may have to have a couple of Republicans even if his caucus holds firm.  As the Hill reports, Reid can’t count on getting everyone into the chamber for this vote.  Max Baucus, who helped put together a different version of the bill, left DC this week to be with his seriously-ill mother.  Robert Byrd has been able to attend the Senate only occasionally this year due to his own health problems.  Five other Senate Democrats had already arranged a “codel’ — an official travel event — and may not be able to stay in town.

Reid has to have 60 positive votes to overcome the threshold this weekend.  If he can’t get that because of absences, Reid can’t even open debate on the bill — which makes his sudden schedule change all the more inexplicable.  Why not wait until Reid can ensure that all of his colleagues will be on the floor to win the vote?

Perhaps because the longer he waits, the more analysis appears that will doom the bill, such as this from James Capretta at The Corner:

For starters, the Reid plan assumes that Medicare physician fees will get cut by about 20 percent beginning in 2011 and then remain very restrained indefinitely. Virtually no one in Congress believes that will happen, nor do they want it to. Indeed, just a couple of weeks ago, Senator Reid himself tried to overturn the planned cuts in physician fees, at a cost of nearly $250 billion over a decade. It does not matter to taxpayers if Senate Democrats try to pass their health-care agenda in one or two bills. The total cost will be the same. With the so-called “doc fix” included in the tally, the Reid plan would increase the federal budget deficit by about $100 billion over ten years, not reduce it.

Then there are the tax increases. CBO gives Senator Reid credit for cutting the budget deficit in a second decade, but that’s not because the plan would do anything to slow the pace of rising health-care costs. It wouldn’t do much of anything in that regard. What it would do is impose massive tax increases, in part by resorting to the same kind of discredited “bracket creep” so despised by the public in the 1970s. At that time, the thresholds separating the various income-tax brackets were not indexed for inflation, which meant that every year many people paid taxes at a higher rate simply because inflation had boosted their wages. Of course, many in Congress liked it that way because it meant a tax increase without the nuisance of a politically unpopular vote. Senator Reid and his Democratic colleagues are trying to pull off the same trick now. They are proposing two tax increases which would hit America’s middle class increasingly hard over time because the dollar thresholds used to assess the tax are not indexed to full inflation. The first, the 40 percent excise tax on high-cost insurance plans, would apply initially only to family policies exceeding $23,500 in annual premiums and individual plans with premiums exceeding $8,500. Those thresholds would increase by general inflation plus one percentage point each year, but that would be still below the rate of expected medical inflation. Consequently, more and more middle-class families would find themselves bumping into the premium thresholds as time passed.

Similarly, Senator Reid wants to raise the Medicare payroll tax, now 2.9 percent, on workers with incomes exceeding $200,000 per year, to 3.4 percent. But, again, that income threshold would not be indexed for inflation, which means many millions of families would be paying it in ten years who wouldn’t be paying it initially.

The bill spends $4.9 trillion and raises $2.2 trillion in taxes, with the rest coming from budget and provider-payment cuts that Capretta seriously doubts will ever make it to reality. The result? A massive deficit-exploding entitlement.

Today’s the day to call your Senators and tell them to start over.

Update: Nelson confirms that he will vote to open debate:

“For more than a year, Nebraskans and all Americans have debated health care reform in their homes, at work, and with friends at hundreds of town hall meetings.

“This weekend, I will vote for the motion to proceed to bring that debate onto the Senate floor. The Senate should start trying to fix a health care system that costs too much and delivers too little for Nebraskans.

“Throughout my Senate career I have consistently rejected efforts to obstruct. That’s what the vote on the motion to proceed is all about.

“It is not for or against the new Senate health care bill released Wednesday.

“It is only to begin debate and an opportunity to make improvements. If you don’t like a bill why block your own opportunity to amend it?

“As we have seen before, obstructionists are inviting a move toward reconciliation by opposing this first procedural vote. Let’s be clear. That route shrinks debate and amendments, eliminates bipartisanship and needs only 50 votes to pass a bill.

“In the end, far more Washington-run health care policies win, but Nebraskans lose.

“In my first reading, I support parts of the bill and oppose others I will work to fix. If that’s not possible, I will oppose the second cloture motion—needing 60 votes—to end debate, and oppose the final bill.

“But I won’t slam the doors of the Senate in the face of Nebraskans now. They want the health care system fixed. The Senate owes them a full and open debate to try to do so.”