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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Should HCR Now Be Repackaged?

Now that all of the theories about why Dems lost Kennedy’s senate seat have been vented, we turn to the more challenging ‘where do we go from here? question.’ It’s really a two-parter, with long range and short-term responses needed. Breaking the short term down, the most immediate question at hand is ‘what do we do about health care reform?’
I’m against the suggestion that HCR be back-burnered to bring jobs and financial system reform to the fore. That may have been the best approach months ago, but it’s too late for that now. It would reek of defeatism, rally the GOP and make Democrats look ineffectual. We have to finish this battle, lest we be branded by swing voters as dithering blowhards.
One of the more interesting proposals in the wake of losing our 60th vote is to repackage health care reform into smaller units. Two approaches have thus far been proposed. Here’s William Greider’s suggestion, from his post at The Nation:

If comprehensive healthcare reform is out of the question, Obama Democrats can break it down into smaller pieces and try to pass worthy measures one by one. A bill to prohibit insurance companies from banning people with pre-existing ailments? Pass it the House and try to pass it in the Senate. If Republicans want to filibuster, make them filibuster. A measure to allow cheaper drug imports from Canada? Let Republicans vote against that. Repealing the antitrust exemption for insurance companies — Democrats support it. Democrats need to start a fight on taxes too. Do Republicans want to tax Wall Street banks or not? Obama has proposed it, let’s have a roll call. The attack strategy will focus on all the reforms people want and need and create a new political dynamic.

Robert Creamer, writing at The HuffPo, argues that HCR could be repackaged into two bills, but via a different route:

One option under consideration involves the House passing the Senate version of the bill as well as a second bill that includes the agreements negotiated in the conference between the Senate and House. The second bill would then be considered under the “budget reconciliation” rules that would not be subject to a Senate filibuster and could therefore become law with the support of a majority vote.
…In the short term, unless a Republican agrees to join with Democrats to cut off debate and bring the health care compromise to a vote in the Senate, the bill negotiated between the House and Senate leadership should be passed using the budget reconciliation rules.
The use of this procedure is not at all unprecedented. The States’ Children’s Health Insurance program (SCHIP) was originally passed using reconciliation rules. The Bush tax cuts were all passed with a simple majority vote using budget reconciliation rules. Nobody argued these measures were being “jammed through” because they did not require 60 votes.

Creamer also offers a response to the Republican whinefest that would follow this strategy:

…To hear some the Republicans, a few conservative Democrats, and portions of the media, you’d think that the idea of passing something with a majority in the Senate is a grave perversion of the Rule of Law — and would involve “jamming” the legislation through Congress. That formulation could well have come from the Mad Hatter. In democracies, the majorities get to make laws. In a democracy, the Minority tail should not be allowed to wag the Majority dog.
What is undemocratic is the idea that a minority — that also happens to represent the insurance industry and other wealthy, vested interests — can block the will of the majority.
During the last few years we’ve gotten so used to the idea that all major legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate that it now sounds “natural.” Some people even believe it is in the Constitution. But of course that’s not true. The Constitution assumes that both the House and Senate require a majority to conduct business and pass laws.
…And as we consider major legislation over the next year, we need to remember history. Voters don’t remember the the procedures used to pass major pieces of legislation. How many everyday Americans know — or care — that the Bush tax cuts, or SCHIP were passed using reconciliation procedures? Does anyone remember the procedure used to pass Social Security or Medicare? How many remember that the House Republicans kept the roll call open for an unprecedented three hours to round up the votes necessary to pass their prescription drug plan, Medicare Part D? Talk about jamming something through!
A month after something is passed, no one remembers or cares about the procedure used to pass major legislation. Major programs are judged by the voters based on their actual effect — not the procedure that was used to pass them…Scott Brown was not elected to be the 51st Republican in the Senate. He was elected to be the 41st Republican. That should not entitle Republicans to block every significant piece of legislation — to block fundamental change.
If we allow them to, shame on us.

Creamer is making good sense here. The budget reconciliation route is a more palatable option now, especially since our available choices have narrowed. He is clearly right that the GOP’s ’60 percent is the only real majority’ argument is a loser that invites ridicule, and Dems should not hesitate to provide it.
Both of these approaches have merit, because they guarantee Dems at least one, and likely more major victories. Elimination of “prior condition” as a disqualifying criteria is as close to a sure thing as is possible. Other measures in the current package also have a good chance of passing. It could certainly be said Democrats, and Democrats alone, provided the leadership that got these urgently-needed reforms passed.

One comment on “Should HCR Now Be Repackaged?

  1. ducdebrabant on

    The White House is in full retreat. Just when people like Evan Bayh need somebody to stiffen their spines, Obama is joining the rout. Why talk about strategy now, when the only strategy that matters is that of the White House? Without leadership from the head of the party, nothing Congress does will matter. Now he’s going to go hat in hand begging again to the Republicans? The Republicans will support NOTHING at this point. They smell the blood in the water. Even I know that. They’ll let him stoop and woo as he did at the beginning of the process, they’ll denounce every position he takes and every statement he makes, they’ll vilify him on the second track when they talk to their base, they’ll lay traps for him, and in the end they’ll do nothing and call it principle. What will HE call principle? I’m breathless to find out now what the backup concept of principle is. When gays and lesbians complained we were being played for suckers and the White House was doing nothing to advance the issues of equality the Presiden ran on, they said we were hysterics. Now it’s the turn of the rest of the party. How do YOU like it?


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