Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and a lot of other liberals are talking tough on health care, but the reality is that Scott Brown’s election is probably going to kill it deader than the dodo. Granted, you can never say never in this business (after all, how many of us expected the Dems to lose “Ted Kennedy’s seat” a month ago?), but here are the Democrats’ remaining options:
1. Try to delay seating Scott Brown and push health care through without him.
First off, if you go by the law as it’s written, Paul Kirk is no longer a U.S. senator. His term ended after the election last night. Even if the Democrats tried to pull a fast one, James Webb has already made it clear that he’s not interested in playing along. That means that if the Democrats in the House make revisions to the Senate bill, they can’t get it back through the Senate without Paul Kirk’s vote.
2. House Democrats pass the Senate bill as is.
Theoretically, this could happen. As a practical matter, it seems very unlikely. “Yes” vote Robert Wexler has retired and won’t be replaced until April. Republican Joseph Cao is going to be a “no” vote this time, and Bart Stupak says he has 10-12 Democrats willing to vote “no” because his pro-life amendment has been yanked. That means Pelosi would need to probably turn at least a dozen “no” votes from last time around, when the bill was more popular. That would be a tall order under any circumstances, but given that the public option has been taken out and the unions have become dismayed that their “Cadillac” health care plans will be taxed, Pelosi seems more likely to lose liberal votes than gain moderate ones at this point. So getting 218 votes in the House for the bill as it currently stands is probably just not possible.
3. The Democrats try to make some changes to the Senate bill in an effort to pull in Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe.
At this point, given how unpopular the bill is with Republicans and the general public, it’s hard to imagine the Democrats coming up with a deal that could entice either of the “Maine sisters” into being the deciding vote. Maybe it would have been possible a few weeks ago, but after Coakley’s loss in Massachusetts, both of them know this is an issue that will resonate in their home state.
4. The Democrats try to shove a bill through via the reconciliation process.
Since reconciliation is a budget process that, despite what you’ll hear from the Democrats, has never been used for something like a health care overhaul, this would be a path fraught with difficulty.
The Democrats would have to create two bills. The first bill would deal with the non-budgetary parts of health care reform: forcing insurance companies to cover sick people, abortion restrictions, etc. This bill would have a lot of the more popular provisions that Democrats want to campaign on, but it would still take 60 votes to pass and it wouldn’t make it through the Senate.
Then, the other bill would have to deal with the budget issues like Medicare cuts, the public option, and tax increases. The Democrats would be able to shove that bill through with only 51 votes. However, Republicans could probably use procedural tricks to drag it out until at least March. Also, you’d probably have moderate Democrats taking potshots at the process publicly, and since the other bill wouldn’t pass, the final product would look like Swiss cheese. Despite what the Democrats are saying publicly, there’s probably very little appetite for keeping this bill in the news for another couple of months and then getting a lousy, half-bill full of unpopular provisions that they’d try to “fix later.”
Last but not least, as Democratic Senator Evan Bayh said last night:
There’s going to be a tendency on the part of our people to be in denial about all this. If you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope of waking up.
Yes, the hardcore liberal ideologues may not be fazed by the loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts, but most of the Democratic politicians in Congress are going to be thinking: “If the Republicans can win in Massachusetts, they may be able to beat me, too.” So publicly, the Democrats may talk tough, but privately, this election is going to convince most of them that Obama is leading the party right off the edge of a cliff on health care.