Health care reform: Don’t pop the champagne corks yet
President Obama, Democrats and health care reform supporters are giddy today over the House passing its version of reform late last night. It is certainly a big step in the right direction – a bigger one than any administration and Congress has taken since Lyndon Johnson created Medicare in the 1960s.
But I would caution those supporters to not get too giddy. Because there are still several mountains left to climb before this is a done deal.
The next one is in the Senate, which has yet to pass its own version. On paper, this shouldn’t be a problem – the Dems and those caucusing with them control 60 seats and have the Vice President – more than enough to get a simple majority. In practice, however, it’s not nearly that simple.
Senate debate rules require 60 votes to “invoke cloture,” or stop debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote. So Majority Leader Harry Reid actually needs 60 votes to get this done. And there are a number of Democratic caucus members who represent conservative constituencies (or are just in the pockets of the insurance companies) who will be a tough sell to get on board with a public option – one of the most critical parts of any real healthcare reform, in my opinion. This group includes Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Evan Bayh (Indiana) and Joe Lieberman (Connecticut). Lincoln and Bayh are both up for re-election next year. But Lieberman could be an even bigger fly in the ointment – he represents a rather liberal state (which went for Obama by 20 points last year) and votes with the Dems on most social issues. But he voted for the Iraq War and campaigned for Republican John McCain against Obama last year, even speaking at the Republican National Convention.
Reid could get around cloture rules by trying to pass the Senate’s version through budget reconcilliation, where he would need only 50 votes plus Vice President Biden. But this move would require the spending authorization to be renewed after 5 years. If the Republicans were to regain control of the Senate by that point, you know what would happen then.
The bill has already been delayed in the Senate and now may not even get passed this year, breaking President Obama’s second deadline. And if the debate goes into next year, moderate and conservative Democrats who are up for re-election in otherwise Republican districts or states are going to be even more reluctant to get on board.
Even if the Senate passes its version, it will have to be merged with the House version in conference committee. Both chambers will then have to pass the final combined version before President Obama can sign it. Same rules and obstacles will still apply.
So be happy with this step forward. But don’t pop the champagne corks just yet.