Wednesday, January 27, 2010

House Dems, Leap! You Have Hand This Time

Jonathan Chait is back, and he has a good post on reconciliation...except for one important point:

The Democrats aren't going to pass health care through reconciliation.

They are going to pass health care through a regular bill, the bill that passed the Senate with 60 votes.

What they are going to do next is improve health care with a reconciliation bill: pass-and-patch.  As I said yesterday, however, if House Democrats are smart they'll get the first bill passed as soon as possible.  Yes, House Dems feel that they've been screwed over by the Senate numerous times, whether it was the BTU tax way back in 1993 or cap-and-trade in 2009.  They're understandably gun-shy. 

But the parliamentary situation this time around is different, and they need to see that.  Ben Nelson has given them, as George Costanza would say, hand.  I talked about this yesterday, but I want to reemphasize how important it is to realize how much it changes the game once the (Senate) bill is signed into law.  All of a sudden, the Senate Democrats are stuck with a law they supported, complete with Nelson's deal and all the rest of it.

And then -- here comes the House with a new bill -- not a bill to set up a new health care system, but a patch on a system that's already the law of the land.  A bill that does lots and lots of popular things (taxes on the rich, get rid of lifetime caps, repeal the Nelson deal), and few if any unpopular things.  Republicans can filibuster it all they want.  They'll be the ones protecting the Nelson deal, the excise tax, lifetime caps and the other things that the patch will change.  True, they may do that anyway; they certainly would complain about the procedure.  But that should be a fight that even moderate Senate Democrats would be glad to take on.  They wouldn't be defending the (old) bill they already passed; they would be fixing it! 

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that passing the Senate bill is the game-changer.  Now, granted, that vote is a tricky one, especially for any House Dem who previously opposed the House version of the bill.  But for anyone who is already on the hook for health care reform (because they voted for the House bill), and for anyone who just wants the thing to get done, the best move is to just go ahead and pass the bill, then send a reconciliation bill to the Senate and watch what happens.  I said yesterday that it was going to take a leap of faith by the House, but the more I think about it it's not much of a leap at all. 


  1. You are so right. If the House insists on reconciliation first, they actually give more power to the GOP which hopes to scare Dems off by threatening all kinds of poison pill votes. But once its the law, then that strategy loses its point. Then all sides have incentive to use reconciliation to actually do something worthwhile in fixing the legislation. House Dems need to realize that the entire GOP strategy is to prevent health care from passing because once it does, everything changes, and not in a way favorable to the GOP. Come on house dems give the GOP the defeat they deserve. After that, reconciliation will truly be used by all sides to improve and not to score points. I hope that this is what the president suggests this evening-pass the senate bill and then lets all work together to make it better if you have a good suggestion.

  2. Excellent points. Pass the Senate Bill. Then pass the fix bill.

    Do you foresee anything that would prevent this from happening? Like you mention, at this point it seems to make sense for everyone involved. I don't understand what the delay is. The leadership has been talking about this option for a while now.

  3. Gregspolitics,

    It's possible that the GOP would negotiate seriously , but I doubt it. The base just wouldn't stand for it.


    What's preventing it from happening is that they need 218 to do it, and it's not clear they have it (for any bill, that is). But the other part is that they may not actually realize what a strong position passing the bill puts them in; they're so used to being scared of being betrayed by the Senate that they may be applying that to a situation that could be a lot different from the usual one. Lots of mights and maybes, though -- it's hard to know what Pelosi is actually thinking.

  4. I like this a lot, Jonathan. But is it likely that the Senate will remain in such panic that they won't be willing to address health care reform, even to pass a bill full of popular stuff? And if you were the House, wouldn't you fear that the Senate was going to keep being ridiculous this way?

  5. Neil,

    My guess is that the panic will dissipate, especially given the logic of the situation. But if they're so skittish that they wouldn't pass a patch after the main bill has passed the House, then they certainly are never going to do anything more (such as pass the patch first). If that's the case, the House should still prefer passing the Senate bill to just letting the whole thing die. But as I said, while I understand the House's fear, this situation just isn't like what's happening with the climate (and other) bills.


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