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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Time To Get Obsessive About Cloture

Now that every committee of jurisdiction in both Houses of Congress has reported health care reform legislation, it’s time for reform advocates to focus obsessively on one formidable “choke point” that could kill legislation: a Republican Senate filibuster supported by Democrats. This is true not only for progressives generally, but specifically for hard-core supporters of a “robust” public option. The odds of getting 60 senators to pre-commit to that kind of bill are roughly zero. The odds of getting 60 senators to allow a vote in which 50 senators support that kind of bill are much, much better.
That’s why I applaud blogger Mike Stark’s fairly successful effort to corner Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas on the very specific question of Pryor’s willingness to support a filibuster. Pryor allowed as how it would take a “crazy” development on the substance of the legislation to convince him to vote against cloture. That’s not an unconditional commitment, but it’s still pretty important. Other reform advocates should emulate Stark, and focus their questions and please to Democratic senators on the sole question of helping Republicans block a vote on the party’s and the Obama administration’s top domestic prioriity. How they vote on the bill itself is strictly secondary at this point, and completely irrelevant if cloture fails.
This issue is becoming even more critical and time-sensitive given Joe Lieberman’s broad hints that there is not any template for health care reform that he can support. You can get upset about that, or you can say you don’t give a damn how Lieberman votes on final passage of a health reform bill so long as he votes for cloture to allow it to come to the floor. When Lieberman was allowed to keep his committee chairmanship after campaigning for the Republican presidential candidate for president in 2008, it was with the implicit understanding that he’d vote with the caucus on procedural votes. Despite many recent efforts to create a 60-vote threshold for passage of legislation by making cloture votes synonymous with final passage votes, cloture is inherently and exclusively a procedural matter. There should be no excuse for “no” votes on cloture for something this important.
I unuderstand that many progressives remain focused on the public option, and fearful that the final congressional product will be unacceptable from their point of view. But that’s an entirely academic issue until such time as 60 votes are secured for cloture. Get that done, and then we can fight over which version of the public option can secure 218 votes in the House and 50 votes in the Senate, and can initiate meaningful and successful health care reform.

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