Friday, December 4, 2009

More Tea Leaves: Benator Troubles

Day two of voting on health care reform on the floor of the Senate. Did we learn more?

Four more amendments, but this time two were essentially meaningless Dem amendments, with the first passing 98-0 and the next 97-1 (Byrd and Bunning missed today's votes; I'm not aware of any reporting on Byrd, and don't care much about Bunning -- cloture requires 3/5 of all Senators, so what matters are the yes votes, with absent Senators equivalent to a no vote). Coburn was the lone no vote.

On to the substantive votes, which were Thune on the CLASS act, and Hatch on Medicare Advantage. Hatch was clobbered 57-41, while Thune received 51 votes, but as with all these amendments needed 60 by agreement. Here are the partisan defections:

Hatch Dems: Ben Nelson, Webb
Hatch GOP: none

Thune Dems: Baucus, Bayh, Carper, Conrad, Landrieu, Lieberman, Lincoln, McCaskill, Ben Nelson, Mark Udall (CO), Warner, Webb
Thune GOP: none

Note first of all that both of these were free votes -- neither amendment was anywhere close to passing.

After two days of this, and based on voting patterns alone, Ben Nelson is emerging as a serious problem. Of the other eleven that defected on the Thune amendment, Webb has also defected on two of the other five contested votes, but the other eleven (and Russ Feingold, yesterday) have only defected once. But the Benator has voted with the Republicans on each of the contested amendments, sticking only on the cloture vote on the motion to proceed. Now, granted, that was the only time the Democrats needed him, but he sure isn't acting like someone who is happy with the basic idea of the bill. Of course, he could be planning to come around in the end but also planning to be able to say that he opposed all those nasty parts of the bill. Either conclusion makes sense. As I've said before, however, Lincoln's voting pattern (including the yes vote in committee) makes no sense at all to me unless she's planning to ultimately support the bill. She gets an amendment considered tomorrow, by the way, so we'll see if that one holds any clues.

The other bad news for the bill is that after drawing the votes of Snowe and Collins on one amendment yesterday, the Democrats could not lure them over on either vote today. My memory, however -- and I'm not looking anything up, just relying on memory, so I could easily be wrong -- is that Snowe didn't side with the Democrats all that often on amendments in the Finance Committee, but she did support the bill at the end.

Overall, after seven contested votes, I think things look pretty good for final passage, and very good for fending off GOP amendments in the meantime. At least based on my reading of voting patterns; as I'm sure all readers know, the two big issues being negotiated off the floor are abortion and public option.

One last thing. Those who believe that moderate Republicans are "RINOs" might want to look at the voting patterns here -- with just three exceptions on one vote, the GOP has been unanimous. And the same with those who believe moderate Dems are interchangable with Republicans; that's been almost true for Ben Nelson, but certainly not true for any of the others -- even Lieberman. Actually, I'm surprised that several of the others (Hagan, Pryor, Casey, Begich, Tester) haven't defected once, yet. Also, I hardly listened to the entire floor debates, but I don't think a single Democrat has given a floor speech in support of a GOP amendment yet. The 10-15 most conservative Dems certainly prefer a different bill than what Brown, Whitehouse, Dodd, and Harkin would draw up, but with the (possible?) exception of Nelson, they're all voting, and mostly acting, as if they do want a bill.

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