Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tea Leaves: Pretty Good Day for Dems

Four votes on the Senate floor today, the first four votes on health care reform. Did we learn anything?

Of the three contested votes (the Bennet "gosh we love Medicare" amendment passed 100-0), the final tallies were 61-39, 41-59, and 42-58. The first of those was the Mikulski amendment, which achieved the 60 needed (by agreement) to pass; the other two, the Murkowski and McCain amendments, were both massively defeated, failing to even get close to 50. Add to those the earlier 60-40 vote on cloture on the motion too proceed, and we have four votes to look at so far.

First, I'll note that strategic voting was very available on the two Republican amendments (over a dozen more Dems could have defected without affecting the outcome), but not really on the Democratic amendment, which passed with one vote to spare.

Second, let's look at the partisan defectors.

Cloture/MTP Dems: None
Cloture/MTP GOP: None

Mikulski Dems: Feingold, Ben Nelson
Mikulski GOP: Collins, Snowe, Vitter

Murkowski Dems: Ben Nelson
Murkowski GOP: None

McCain Dems: Ben Nelson, Webb
McCain GOP: None

So, back to the question: did we learn anything?

I wouldn't push too hard on it, but I'd say that's a very good result for the bill. On two amendments, both of which were essentially free votes, all but one of the major swing Dems stuck with the party. Lincoln, Landrieu, Lieberman -- all straight party line votes. If you're there for the party when they need you (the two close votes), and you're there with the party when they don't need you...well, that sounds a lot like Senators who are interested in supporting a bill. Lieberman is capable of doing pretty much anything, but the other two, especially Lincoln, are really starting to build a solid record of supporting the bill. I just can't see how Lincoln could wind up flipping on final cloture: she's pretty much casting her lot, for better or worse, with the Democrats.

Ben Nelson, on the other hand, was only with the Dems once...although that was the one time they actually needed him. Nelson is the most conservative Democratic Senator, so it's not a big surprise that he's going to toss some votes the other way (either because he really doesn't like the bill or because he wants to appear as moderate as possible to Nebraska voters). I wouldn't call his vote pattern so far really bad news, but it's not great.

Back on the plus side, getting Collins and Snowe on board for something is good to see for supporters of the bill. Their worst votes, from the point of view of bill supporters, were the party-line votes on the MTP cloture.

The three other defections are less significant. Vitter's vote is odd but almost certainly predicts nothing. Feingold is a deficit hawk, but no one is really worried about him on the final vote. That Webb tossed one (safe) vote to the other side isn't very surprising; what's really surprising is that the other moderates (Carper, Hagan, Conrad, McCaskill, Pryor, the other Nelson) didn't do the same, since again they could have all defected without coming close to affecting the outcome. Again, I think that's very good news for the Democrats: the moderates, with the possible exception of the four everyone is talking about, appear to be pretty satisfied with the bill. I expect each of the moderates to eventually toss votes to the GOP as the voting on amendments proceeds, but it's looking more and more like the ballgame is getting two of Nelson, Lieberman, Collins, and Snowe.

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