Posted by: Jeff | August 20, 2009

Adapting to the Battlefield

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House and Senate Democrats are considering a shift in strategy on health care reform. (Or would that be a shift in tactics?)

Most legislation in the Senate requires 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but certain budget-related measures can pass with 51 votes through a parliamentary maneuver called reconciliation.

In recent days, Democratic leaders have concluded they can pack more of their health overhaul plans under this procedure, congressional aides said. They might even be able to include a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers, a key demand of the party’s liberal wing, but that remains uncertain.

Other parts of the Democratic plan would be put to a separate vote in the Senate, including most of the insurance regulations that have been central to Mr. Obama’s health-care message.

That bill would likely set new rules for insurers, such as requiring they accept anyone, regardless of pre-existing medical conditions. This portion of the health-care overhaul has already drawn some Republican support and wouldn’t involve new spending, leading Democratic leaders to believe they could clear the 60-vote hurdle.

Matt Yglesias with a positive reaction here. Ezra Klein is a bit more skeptical. Meanwhile, The Onion keeps everything in perspective.

*UPDATE – Jamelle over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen also weighs in.

That said, I’m not sure if any of this could actually work, in large part because I’m not sure if centrist Democrats are actually interested in passing any health care reform.  And, unfortunately, they are the most important players in this game.  After all, a Republican filibuster can only hold if your Ben Nelsons or Blanche Lincolns decide to vote against cloture.  If centrist Democrats are genuinely interested in reforming the system and do have honest opposition to a government-run insurance program, then the split bill strategy is a good one, since it holds on to their support for said insurance reforms.  Likewise, the opposite is true.  If our centrist friends opt follow the lead of Republicans and stand against all reform, regardless of content, then splitting the bill simply doesn’t matter.

At the risk of being too optimistic, I don’t think that’s the case.  None of the usual suspects have said anything about opposing the more commonsensical insurance reforms.  What’s more, there is a real political advantage to splitting the legislation; if the less controversial half makes it through the Senate, that gives President Obama a real, substantive victory after a summer of near-deafening right-wing rage.  In turn, that momentum can be directed towards the reconciliation fight, which will be a madhouse, I’m sure of it.

So just what the hell are those centrist Democrats thinking, anyway? I haven’t a clue.


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