Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Step on Health Care

The House bill is out, today.

Why did Pelosi fall short in her efforts to get enough votes for the stronger version of the public option? Didn't it look like she was going to get the votes, only last week? What happened?

Simple: everyone knows that the compromise on public option is going to look much more like the Senate version than the House version. The Blue Dogs don't want to be associated with the most liberal version of things -- they likely don't care too much about the substance, just the perception. Once it was clear that the Senate would go for a weak public option (with opt-out), then the stronger public option became the liberal version, and there was no longer any reason for marginal Democrats in the House to absorb the risk of casting a liberal vote.

Had the Senate not acted, or had the Senate no included a public option at all, then the Blue Dogs would face a different calculus: the House was almost certainly going to have some sort of public option in the House version of the bill, and so Blue Dogs were going to either have to take a liberal vote (for whatever version of the public option was in the bill) or oppose the bill. In other words, without the Senate setting a marker, it wasn't clear what constituted "more" liberal. Once it was clear what was the liberal alternative, marginal Democrats flocked to the "moderate" choice.

Remember, there's a big collective action problem here: all Democrats want health care reform to pass (because they believe passage or failure of health care reform will affect Obama's popularity, and they believe that Obama's popularity will help them get reelected), but marginal Democrats want to avoid any vote that can be portrayed as liberal. So the best position for many marginal Dems is voting against a bill that passes; the next best position is voting for the bill, but against lots of "liberal" amendments. No marginal Democrat wants to vote for a more liberal version of the bill than the one that is eventually signed into law.

This is also why the House bill didn't show up until today (after the Senate bill, which most believed would be more conservative, was unveiled), even though House committee action was concluded months ago, and Pelosi could have moved the bill to the floor in early September. Of course, marginal Democratic Senators want the House to go first, for the same reasons. The compromise, apparently, was the the Senate announced their position on public option first; and then the House announced their position on public option, released their full bill, and will apparently take floor action first.

Hey reporters: how much of this coordination was explicit? How much of it was orchestrated by the White House?

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