The realization of what a Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts means for ObamaCare has slowly dawned on the White House — and they’re getting desperate for a way out. Even the AP now reports of panic in the Obama administration from the collapse of the heavily-favored Martha Coakley in the special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy. How panicked have they become? After holding a days-long, closed-door meeting with leading House and Senate Democrats and union lobbyists to hammer out a new compromise ObamaCare bill, Barack Obama may abandon it and demand that the House acquiesce to the Senate:
A panicky White House and Democratic allies scrambled Sunday for a plan to salvage their hard-fought health care package in case a Republican wins Tuesday’s Senate race in Massachusetts, which would enable the GOP to block further Senate action.
The likeliest scenario would require persuading House Democrats to accept a bill the Senate passed last month, despite their objections to several parts.
Aides consulted Sunday amid fears that Republican Scott Brown will defeat Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s seat. A Brown win would give the GOP 41 Senate votes, enough to filibuster and block final passage of the House-Senate compromise on health care now being crafted.
House Democrats, especially liberals, viewed those compromises as vital because they view the Senate-passed version as doing too little to help working families. Under the Senate-passed bill, 94 percent of Americans would be covered, compared to 96 percent in the version passed last year by the House.
The House plan would increase taxes on millionaires while the Senate plan would tax so-called Cadillac, high-cost health insurance plans enjoyed by many corporate executives as well as some union members.
There’s nothing illegitimate about that process. The House has always had the option of accepting the Senate version in toto, which would have allowed Obama to sign the bill without another Senate vote. Unfortunately for Obama and Harry Reid, the House doesn’t want to enact the Senate version, which has no public option and taxes the beefy union health-care plans immediately. Nancy Pelosi’s union allies have already made their displeasure clear.
Likelihood of passage in the House: slim. It’s not impossible, of course, but the original House version only passed by three votes, one of them Republican Joe Cao of New Orleans. True, that was a managed vote; Pelosi had a few more Democrats who could have switched votes at the time, but she managed to protect them from the political damage of a yes vote. Without a public option, some of her progressive caucus will bolt, especially with the so-called Cadillac-plan tax in place that hits unions.
It seems that the White House has belatedly agreed with Fred Barnes that Paul Kirk stops being a Senator on Tuesday night and cannot provide a 60th vote for an ObamaCare compromise, even if Massachusetts delays certification of Scott Brown, assuming he wins. If their Plan B consists of forcing the Senate version onto the House, ObamaCare is very close to getting derailed — and Obama will have lost six months of the legislative calendar on the biggest defeat since George Bush failed to get a revamp of Social Security in 2005.
Update: A couple of interesting points from Jake Tapper today. First, he says that Nancy Pelosi has already thrown cold water on a House cramdown:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has told the White House that she’s skeptical the House would pass that legislation, given the stark differences in some areas, but Senate Democrats and White House officials would push hard the notion that the bills are 90 percent similar and not doing so would be allowing the insurance companies to win. House Democrats would want Senate Democrats force the bill through by bypassing normal Senate rules and passing the legislation through the “reconciliation” process — requiring only 50 votes. That would even allow some moderates to peel away.
But White House officials note that reconciliation is only for budget matters so the most popular parts of the bill involving insurance reforms — banning the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, for instance — would not be part of that bill.
Reconciliation would mean moving the bill once again through the Finance Committee, too. That’s the only committee that can send a bill through reconciliation. That may not stop the budgetary elements from getting a vote, but it would slow the process down considerably.
Tapper also noticed a curious omission from Obama’s speech yesterday:
But in Boston — a fairly hospitable “one end of the country” — the president did not directly mention the health care reform legislation, opposition to which Brown has made one of the signatures of his campaign. He talked about Coakley being on the side of the people, and Brown on the side of the insurance industry, but there was no direct reference to Brown being the key vote against passage of the health care reform bill.
This was an obvious sign that the White House knows just how unpopular the legislation currently is, regardless of what the president told House Democrats last week.
Don’t think Democrats on the Hill didn’t notice that, either. After Tuesday, Obama may have trouble getting to 50, let alone 60, if the Senate has to take this bill under consideration again.