Posted by: Jeff | September 30, 2009

Just What Is Going On Inside Max Baucus’ Brain?

I’m genuinely flummoxed. He and several other conservative Democrats voted against both versions of the public option today in the Senate Finance Committee. Baucus claims this isn’t because he opposes the idea, but because he doesn’t think a public option can get sixty votes on the Senate floor. But as lots of people keep pointing out, you don’t actually need sixty votes to pass a public option. You just need fifty-one. You need the sixty votes to break the filibuster which would prevent the vote on the public option.

Now here comes Howard Dean saying that a vote for the public option would be a conscience vote. As in, it’s understood that all the Senators would be voting their principles (such as they are) on the matter. But the vote for overcoming the filibuster would be a procedural vote. And according to Dean, it’s accepted practice that on procedural votes all the members of the Democratic caucus get in line and vote with their party. In which case, the Democrats should have sixty votes to break a filibuster.

So if Baucus is saying there aren’t enough votes to pass a public option, he’s almost certainly a fool. And if Baucus is saying there aren’t enough votes to break a filibuster, then Howard Dean is saying he’s a fool. So what gives? I know the Democratic Caucus has been historically much harder to corral than the Republican Caucus. (This is one situation where conservatives’ bent for authoritarianism, as opposed to liberals’ pussy-footing kumbaya tendency, comes in handy.) Is Dean overselling the Democrats intra-party discipline to throw red meat to the Rachel Maddow audience? Or is Max Baucus trying to hide behind dodgy vote math? And if it’s the latter, why?

Is he afraid of a throwdown fight over the public option? I guess so. Does he think that if he let it get out of the Senate Finance Committee alive, it would sink health care reform entirely? That strikes me as borderline absurd. If it came to a vote for either reform-plus-the-public-option or no reform at all, the conservative Democrats would be doing as much political damage to themselves as to anyone else by voting “no.” Is he afraid, then, that the public option actually would make it all the way and he’d get tagged as a supporter of it in a relatively conservative state? If the Democrats break the filibuster, then nine of those sixty can vote “no” on the public option without killing it. If he’s one of those nine, that gives Baucus room to breath. Is he simply enthralled to that cool four million he’s gotten from the health and insurance industries? Seriously, what the hell is going on here?

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