Thursday, March 18, 2010

Numbers Out, Vote Coming

I haven't posted on the CBO numbers and final legislative language for health care reform today, partially because I'm trying to get some actual (academic-type) research done,* and partially because, well, there's not much for me to say.  The people who handle the substance of these things are on top of it -- Jonathan Cohn, Igor Volsky.  Also, see Keith Hennessey, who thinks that the Dems failed to scrub the bill of Byrd rule bait. As far as the politics of the thing is concerned, this isn't something that really changes anything.  In fact, very little over the last few weeks has changed anything.  Ezra Klein makes a fair point that actually coming up with the policy is hard (he says harder than getting the votes; I'm not sure, and of course the two are interrelated).  But that this stage, it doesn't appear that there were serious policy disputes; it was just a question of making the numbers work out correctly for the purposes of reconciliation rules (without, of course, opening up any settled questions).  Which is hard enough, of course.

As far as the politics, not much has changed since Scott Brown's election.  From that point on, a number of things were clear.  First, Democrats were sufficiently committed to health care reform (both in the promises they made while running and in the votes the House and Senate had already cast) that they couldn't just drop the topic.  Second, that Republicans were committed to opposing whatever the Democrats wanted, and so compromising their way out of the situation wasn't a viable option.  Third, that pass-and-patch would be the parliamentary form of moving ahead.  Fourth, that there were no real policy issues remaining to haggle out between the president, the House, and the Senate; the non-conference conference had worked out a general agreement on funding that the unions and the cost-cutters could all live with, the public option was dead, and the rest of what needed to be done were mostly details (as important as those details might be to actual people affected by them).  Fifth, the tough vote was going to be on House passage of the Senate bill; the reconciliation patch portion of it would be mostly or all ice cream, no spinach.  And sixth, when it came down to a vote in the House, the main factor was going to be coordinating and organizing a bunch of House Dems who wanted the bill to pass but without their support (although it's rare to find one who actually says that, as Stupak did today!).  Most of what actually has happened since Scott Brown was the logic of all of this playing itself out.

I'm not saying that everyone was totally locked in to the path they've taken...people did have choices to make.  But their choices were severely constrained by the situation.  In fact, I'm not saying that the bill will definitely pass. It could be, at the end of the day, that the coordination problem is too great -- or that the skills of the House leadership and the White House are lacking.  All I'm saying is that politically, what's looked I suppose like a lot of swings and reverses under the focus of the 24-hour news cycle is also, from a remove, a pretty stable structural situation.

At any rate, as far as watching for whether it'll pass, I said at the beginning of the week that bad news would be the schedule slipping, and to concentrate on "yes" votes while ignoring "no" votes.  So far, the schedule slipped one day so far this week, which probably was not a sign of trouble (see Hennessey). So far, however, they haven't produced enough yes votes...but as long as they're moving toward a vote, odds are that they know where the last few votes are.

*If I say it publicly, maybe that'll get me to do it!

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