Monday, January 18, 2010

If It's 59...

With the MA vote very soon, and the polling looking less than good for the Dems up there, I want to point everyone to an excellent post by Jonathan Cohn on the situation if Brown wins the Senate seat. 

Basically, as Jonathan suggests, the least-bad option for the Dems is going to be getting the House to swallow the Senate version of the bill whole.  That can come with promises of fixing things later, perhaps through reconciliation, or perhaps by packaging it with some other popular bill.  But I agree with the political logic that marginal Dems are generally better off if the bill is a law than if it isn't.

Just one caveat to that, however.  Cohn writes:
Democrats from both ideological sides ought to consider whether voting against it now really spares them political blow-back. All of them have already voted for a health care bill. And that means they can expect one of the following two advertisements this fall:
Candidate X is an out-of-touch liberal who voted for the horrible health care reform bill that passed.
Candidate X is an out-of-touch liberal who voted for the horrible health care reform bill that almost passed.
It seems to me the two ads would be equally effective, unless Democrats can counter it by touting the benefits of reform--by reminding voters that, in the future, they won’t have to worry that insurance will run out when they get sick, that they’ll be able to have a binding appeal when insurers deny coverage, that they’ll be guaranteed emergency room coverage without prior approval, that they’ll be able to change jobs worrying about losing insurance, and so on.
But the only way to make that argument is to pass health care reform. No matter what happens on Tuesday.
The problem is that this logic only holds for Dems who did, in fact, vote for health care.   And the bill passed the House narrowly.  So if only a handful of those who already voted for the bill bail -- because of electoral panic, or because they can't swallow various specific provisions that are different than the House version (for liberals, no public option; for Dem right-to-lifers, no Stupak, and that's just the big ones)...well, even though the bill should look better for all the moderates who opposed it on the House floor earlier, it's an open question whether they'll be willing to flip from no to yes at this point.  There is another way of thinking about it, which is that each Democrat is better off if the party as a whole (and the president) looks good, and that the way to do that is to pass the bill.  I think that's a strong logic, but whether it's enough to prevail...well, Pelosi might know whether she has the votes, but then again she might not know.

By the way, if this thing does fall apart then the failure of the Dems to move quickly to strike a deal -- by, say, January 1, holidays be damned, with final votes taken in the House and Senate by January 15 -- may go down as one of the great blunders in the history of legislating. 


  1. Jon,

    What explains the drop in support for healthcare in MA – which appears to be 10% in the last few months? I would certainly rather be candidate X who says, "I heard the people and voted to stop this horrible health care reform law," than the one who gets the other two ads run against him by the next Scott Brown.


  2. Actually, I think that if health care reform does pass and get implemented, it's unlikely to be a problem for those who voted for it. The big problem for Dems is short fact, this is probably the time of maximum danger. As far as why support has dipped, odds are that it's one part the recession (making Obama less popular, and therefore his initiative less popular), one part that sausage-making is just ugly, regardless of how good the results turn out to be, and one part the effects of the GOP rejectionist strategy. Don't know the relative size of those parts, but my guess would be that the recession is the big one.

  3. Man, you last paragraph perfectly captures what I was thinking. The inability of the Dems to get this done quickly after Christmas looks positively cataclysmic at the moment but also seems a sadly appropriate denouncement to health care reform. The Democratic Party has been arguing amongst itself for months now, at least since the bill came out of the Senate Finance Committee. Is it any wonder the public has turned so harshly on it? I am as loyal a D as you can find. I think this bill is the greatest social policy advancement since the Great Society. That said, I have found the sausage making to be frustrating at best, grotesque at worst. Obama has a lot of work to do to get the public back on his side.

  4. It looks like you've called it! From the NYT,

    "Ms. Pelosi told reporters in California on Monday. 'Just the question of how we would proceed. But it doesn’t mean we won’t have a health care bill.'

    'Let’s remove all doubt,' she added. 'We will have health care one way or another.' "

    Sounds like she's willing to make the House walk-the-plank for the Senate bill. A Republican dream come true - there'll be Scott Browns in every district inside a month!


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