There continues to be mixed signs with regards to the prognosis for passage of health care reform legislation. Obama urged Senate Democrats to finish the job on health care today (while the Senators seemed more interested in discussing other topics). Reportedly the White House is also privately urging the House to pass the Senate version of the bill with fixes.
There might be some obstacles to the idea of passing fixes to the Senate bill through a budget reconciliation vote which only requires a simple majority. The Hill reports that the Republicans, who have already shown themselves to be experts in obstructionist tactics, have come up with a loophole:
Republicans say they have found a loophole in the budget reconciliation process that could allow them to offer an indefinite number of amendments…
Experts on Senate procedural rules, from both parties, note that such a filibuster is possible. While reconciliation rules limit debate to 20 hours, senators lack similar constraints on amendments and could conceivably continue offering them until 60 members agree to cut the process off.
Another option for Democrats would be to seek a ruling by the parliamentarian that Republicans are simply filing amendments to stall the process. But such a ruling could taint the final healthcare vote and backfire for Democrats in November.
Or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could use a tactic similar to the so-called nuclear option to quash the GOP tactics.
If those options failed, and Reid couldn’t convince a single Republican to vote with his 59-member conference, Democrats might be forced to consider withdrawing the healthcare bill.
There is yet another obstacle to the current health care proposals. Virginia’s Democratic-controlled Senate has already voted to prohibit their state residents from being subjected to the individual mandate to purchase insurance. Other states are likely to follow. It is doubtful that this would hold up in court but even if the federal law held over the state law it would be politically dangerous for the Democrats to attempt to impose a mandate in this manner. As I’ve argued many times, Obama should have stuck to his first instincts and continued to oppose an individual mandate as he did during the campaign.
Many supporters of passing the Senate bill now find encouragement in a poll which shows that Democrats poll almost equally poorly whether or not health care reform passes. The logic is that if Democrats do not poll any worse, they might as well go ahead and pass the plan. Some believe that passage would also improve support for Democrats.
There are strong reasons to pass health care reform for the good of the country, but polls such as this hardly provide a good argument. It is at least equally likely that ramming through the bill would further decrease Democratic support in the short run as we would hear about every negative aspect (especially the mandate) while most people would not see the benefits of the plan for a few years. The lesson from a poll which shows the Democrats polling almost equally poorly regardless of whether health care passes primarily shows the need to concentrate more on explaining the benefits of the plan while fixing some of the negative aspects (such as eliminating the individual mandate). Hopefully Obama’s new concentration on public appearances will help correct the misconceptions being spread by the right wing noise machine (and often originating from the insurance industry) about health care reform.