There’s no doubt that Senator Scott Brown will oppose each and every variation of the Obama health reform plan, since his position on that issue alone is probably what won him the Massachusetts special election. That means that Democrats can no longer close debate on any plan changes that might be proposed by the House of Representatives: they no longer have the 60 votes required to win. Here are their five options:
1. Vote before Brown takes his Senate seat
That won’t happen, for two reasons. Under Massachusetts law, Paul Kirk, the appointed replacement for Ted Kennedy, is no longer a Senator: he can’t cast the decisive vote to close Senate debate. And, several Democratic Senators have already stated that they won’t flaunt the “will of the people” by playing games with certification. Senator Kennedy himself was sworn in the day after his own election in 1962.
2. Pass the Senate Bill in the House
Since the Senate has already approved H.R.3590 with a wide assortment of amendments, the House could simply approve the Senate revisions and send it to the President for his signature. No Senate vote would be required. That is highly unlikely.
Labor unions were livid over the Senate’s decision to fund reforms by taxing “Cadillac health plans”, enjoyed by many union workers. They insisted on a House amendment that would exempt all union plans. Making that change, opposed by President Obama, would require another Senate vote.
As many as 40 House Democrats will not support a bill that doesn’t explicitly ban funding for abortions. The 64 Democrats who voted for the Stupak Amendment won’t be happy with a Senate version that lacks those provisions.
Many House “progressives” insist on a government-run “public option” and the deletion of that program by the Senate may sour their support. Even worse, the Senate revision eliminated the nation-wide insurance exchange in favor of a state opt-out exchange. The left-wing of the Democratic Party would have to swallow hard before blessing the Senate reform language. The House will bless the Senate bill, in the delicate words of one Senator, when “pigs fly out of my ass.”
3. Use reconciliation to bypass a Senate cloture vote
The procedure that is used to resolve minor budget discrepancies between two bills can’t be filibustered in the Senate. But, the rules on what can be “reconciled” are very strict: they don’t allow any changes in policy, only the allocation of budgeted funds. None of the health care spending or tax proposals have been approved as part of an omnibus appropriations bill, so Republicans can invoke a host of procedural roadblocks, including filibustering, to stop this end-run around a standard Conference Committee that would work out a common bill for re-consideration by both chambers.
4. Cave-in to a few Republican Senators
Republican Senator Olympia Snowe voted in favor of a Budget Committee draft and might vote in favor of a reform bill that included her proposed “trigger” mechanism for state health care insurance exchanges. But, both she and moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins voted against the final Senate bill and aren’t likely to bolt the GOP Caucus to hand the Democrats a victory.
5. Toss everything out and go back to square one
If President Obama and Democrats are desperate to get anything that even remotely resembles the kind of system reforms they want, they could simply throw away everything and sit down with Republicans to start all over. Such a move would deal a catastrophic blow to the Democratic “progressives” who hoped to nationalize medical insurance, even if the move would conform to candidate Barack Obama’s campaign promise to seek a bi-partisan consensus on major legislation.
Finally, Democrats have every reason to be very worried about the Massachusetts phenomenon. In a state that adopted a mandatory medical insurance exchange system, the voters rebelled. A Suffolk University opinion poll just before the special election found that 62% of Massachusetts voters believe the state cannot afford its own health care system, much less a national system of the same type. Suffolk is notable for having discovered the first surge of support for Scott Brown in its “bellweather” districts and called the results better than most other pollsters. So, Democrats are afraid that it’s true: voters do not want the kind of health reform program they’re selling.
All 256 Democrats are up for election this fall and many of them are in traditionally Republican districts. If they sense that any expansion of government control over health care is unpopular in their home district, they may abandon party unity to side with voters. If it might win them re-election, they could decide to be “for it, before they were against it.” Then, health care reform, as we’ve known it, will pass into political oblivion, with or without Senator Brown casting a single vote.
Tea Party throws Obama plans into Boston Harbor
The new Obama legacy: the audacity of waffling
Senate approves ‘public options’ for health care
Playing the ‘Go To Jail’ card in health care reform
Image Credits: BrownKill
Photos (Brown Campaign, Lipton Tea, Senate Clerk)