Free Markets, Free People

Yes They Can (And Will) — UPDATED

On last night’s podcast, I argued that Democrats in Congress will indeed pass something called “health care reform” even if the bill doesn’t accomplish almost anything they claimed it would. For close to a century, government-controlled health care has been the holy grail of the statist set, and they aren’t about to pass up the best (and perhaps last) opportunity they have to see that goal through. Andy McCarthy admonished Republicans to keep this in mind when counting unhatched Senate and House seats from this Fall’s elections:

Today’s Democrats are controlled by the radical Left, and it is more important to them to execute the permanent transformation of American society than it is to win the upcoming election cycles. They have already factored in losing in November — even losing big. For them, winning big now outweighs that. I think they’re right.

I hear Republicans getting giddy over the fact that “reconciliation,” if it comes to that, is a huge political loser. That’s the wrong way to look at it. The Democratic leadership has already internalized the inevitablility of taking its political lumps. That makes reconciliation truly scary. Since the Dems know they will have to ram this monstrosity through, they figure it might as well be as monstrous as they can get wavering Democrats to go along with. Clipping the leadership’s statist ambitions in order to peel off a few Republicans is not going to work. I’m glad Republicans have held firm, but let’s not be under any illusions about what that means. In the Democrat leadership, we are not dealing with conventional politicians for whom the goal of being reelected is paramount and will rein in their radicalism. They want socialized medicine and all it entails about government control even more than they want to win elections. After all, if the party of government transforms the relationship between the citizen and the state, its power over our lives will be vast even in those cycles when it is not in the majority. This is about power, and there is more to power than winning elections, especially if you’ve calculated that your opposition does not have the gumption to dismantle your ballooning welfare state.

Bruce thinks McCarthy is being overly generous with respect to the courageousness of congress members, and that in the end the House will not have enough votes to pass the Senate bill, and thus start the reconciliation process (which Keith Hennessey describes quite well). Enmity between the two houses of congress, in particular the House’s distrust of the Senate to pass a new bill “fixing” the first bill, may make passage of the first bill impossible. Making the task of passing a reconciliation bill even more herculean are some procedural quirks that potentially allow an infinite series of amendments to be offered during the vote-a-rama process in the Senate, and the great likelihood that much of the bill will violate the Byrd Rule, which negates provisions that do not deal with the budget (for a great explanation of both, once again, visit Mr. Hennessey). To top it all off, if the reconciliation bill increases the long-term budget (more than ten years out), then the whole thing automatically gets scrapped (again, see Hennessey). That’s quite a lot to overcome.

However, I think the Democrats, and especially President Obama, are bound and determined to pass something regardless of the high hurdles to be faced in the process or the eventual political costs. This is Obama’s legacy, after all, and the only thing he’s really spent any time on during his presidency. If there is any way that Congress can pass something resembling a health care bill, they will do it. The Senate has already done it’s job on this score, and voting weaknesses in the House virtually ensure that Nancy Pelosi can wrangle assurances from Harry Reid that the Senate will pass the reconciliation bill. The final version may be swiss cheese, and the Byrd Rule is likely to knock out several provisions that are necessary to get votes (think “Stupak amendment”), but in the end I believe that the Democrats can cobble something together that will garner majority votes in both houses and be sent to the president for his signature. This issue is simply too important to the left to let go.

Something else to keep in mind, with respect to vote counting, is that any Democrat congress member who has decided to “retire” ahead of this Fall’s elections will have no repercussions from voting for either the Senate bill or the reconciliation bill. The seats of these lame-duck congressmen are viewed by Republicans a potential pick-up’s for the next congress, when they should be worried about how the lame ducks will be voting.

In the end, I think that Reid and Pelosi deliver something in the way of a public option with tax hikes and that Obama will declare victory when he signs the bill into law. There’s certainly no virtue in this process, but then, there’s really no virtue left in Washington, so that should come as no surprise.

UPDATE: “The Biden Situation”

According to Norman Ornstein, of AEI, and Robert Dove, former Senate parliamentarian, the unlimited amendment tactic during vote-a-rama may not be all it’s cracked up to be [HT: AllahPundit]:

Should passing health care reform come down to the use of reconciliation — and all signs point that way — Vice President Joseph Biden could play a hugely influential role in determining not only what’s in the bill but whether or not it passes.

Two experts in the arcane rules of the Senate said on Monday that, as president of the Senate, Biden has the capacity not just to overrule any ruling that the parliamentarian may make but also to cut off efforts by Republicans to offer unlimited amendments.

“Ultimately it’s the Vice President of the United States [who has the power over the reconciliation process],” Robert Dove, who served as Senate parliamentarian on and off from 1981-2001, told MSNBC this morning. “It is the decision of the Vice President whether or not to play a role here… And I have seen Vice Presidents play that role in other very important situations… The parliamentarian can only advise. It is the vice president who rules.”


“The vice president can rule that amendments are dilatory,” Norm Ornstein, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and one of the foremost experts on congressional process, told the Huffington Post. “That they are not serious attempts to amend the bill but are designed without substance to obstruct. He can rule them out of order and he can do that on bloc.”

“There are time limits,” Ornstein added. “It is not that they can keep doing it over and over again.”

How ironic that the same man who famously mangled the VP’s constitutional role in the Senate might possibly wield that very power to foist ObamaCare on us. Well, I guess it’s no more ironic than the “Kennedy seat” busting a filibuster-proof majority that was depended upon to deliver Kennedy’s life-long dream of government-run health care.

Just the same, I wouldn’t count on ObamaCare being dead and gone just yet.

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6 Responses to Yes They Can (And Will) — UPDATED

  • I read conflicting reports – how does reconciliation work? I keep hearing that the GOP can (and will) offer ammendment after ammendment for votes. And that at some point at least 1 more cloture vote will be needed?

    Basically, my point is this – if the Dems are determined to do this, can the GOP stall until help arrives in Jan?

    • According to Hennessey, there is a point in the process where (theoretically) the Republicans could offer unlimited amendments:

      Senate floor debate on a reconciliation bill is limited to 20 hours.  There is no limit on amendments that can be offered.  This means that, after two full days of debate and amendments, twenty hours will have expired.  Any amendments which are queued up (or are then offered) are then voted on, in sequence, with no debate (in theory).  In practice the Senators will often agree to precede each vote with 30 seconds of debate from the proponent and 30 seconds from an opponent.
      For a normal reconciliation bill, there are anywhere from 15 to 60 amendments stacked up.  Assume 15 minutes per vote when the Senate is working at top speed.  The Senate spends many hours in a seemingly endless series of stacked votes.  This is called the vote-a-rama.
      A well-disciplined Senate majority party can defeat every amendment with a simple majority by simply voting to table (kill) each amendment.
      The novel twist this time would be the possibility of a Senate Republican filibuster by amendment during the vote-a-rama.  Even a single Republican could, in theory, offer an infinite sequence of amendments to each word of the bill, never allowing Leader Reid to get to final passage.
      This has never happened.  Even in times of extreme partisan stress over highly contentious reconciliation bills, the minority has forced a handful or two of tough votes and then allowed the reconciliation bill to move to final passage.  But in sixteen years I have never seen the reconciliation process placed under as much stress as is suggested by this strategy.

      As I understand it, in theory infinite amendments are possible, but in reality there is a physical limit to the actual number of amendments that can be “queued up” for the vote-a-rama (a term Hennessey actually coined).  Since the Democrats only need 50 votes to table (kill) each amendment (with the VP breaking any tie), then the Dems don’t even need perfect party discipline.
      The long and short of it is that the GOP can try to gum up the works, but they have a limited time to do so, and even then they are only delaying the inevitable.  So, while there are procedural weapons at the GOP’s disposal, I think a determined majority can still ram something called “health care reform” down our throats anyway.

  • I agree with just about everything you have stated except that ,”The seats of these lame-duck congressmen are viewed by Republicans a potential pick-up’s for the next congress, when they should be worried about how the lame ducks will be voting”.  Worry or not, there is nothing they can do about which way these democrats will vote. My big concern is that the repubs lack the stones to campaign on and then follow through on a promise to work on repeal until it is accomplished.