Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fate of health care bills still in hands of moderate Democrats

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark), one of a dozen moderate Democrats whose votes are needed to pass any health care reform proposal

As I posted many times before (most recently here), the fate of the various health care bills in the House and Senate is in the hands of from eight to a dozen or so moderate Democrats in the Senate (and to a lesser extent, their counterparts in the House).

The almost daily combat covered widely in the media for months pitting reform supporters against Congressional Republicans and the conservative commentariat has obscured the real issue: what approach will secure the votes of all 60 Senate Democrats? Now that Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has voted to report out the Senate Finance Committee bill, the number of Democrats needed may be 59 (although it's still far from clear what final bill Snowe might support). Getting to 59 is still a steep climb, considering the centrist tendencies of this lot.

As Politico reports, a final bill is a long way off:

Senate Democrats took their new found momentum for health reform into closed-door talks with White House aides Wednesday but still faced a months-old problem: centrist Democrats who aren’t sold on Obama-style reform even now.

If Democratic leadership hoped Republican Olympia Snowe’s decision to cross party lines Tuesday would inspire her fellow middle-of-the-roaders, they were mistaken.


“There are many competing views on how best to reform health care within my caucus,” Reid acknowledged Wednesday before ducking into the first of what will be many negotiating sessions with Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who ushered a bill through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “I know this isn’t going to be easy.”

And it's not going to get any easier if action slips into election year 2010, when many not-so-moderate freshman and sophomore Democrats elected in 2006 and 2008 may not want to hand their opponents a high-profile issue:

And on the House side, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer raised the prospect that the bill might slip past Christmas and into 2010 – which could be politically disastrous for President Barack Obama, who is trying to pass health reform this year to put some distance between the vote and the midterm elections.

Nonetheless, many liberal Democrats continue to bang the drum for a more expensive and government-heavy plan -- one with a "public option" -- than the one pieced together by Max Baucus to attract support from moderate Democrats and snare Olympia Snowe in the bargain. And the left wing of party is throwing a hissy fit, demanding that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discipline his caucus and punish any moderates who won't toe the party line. It's interesting to note that a year ago, the same lefty talking heads and bloggers were praising the virtues of the Democratic Party's big tent politics, compared to the narrow ideologically-driven conservatism of the GOP. Well, welcome to the big tent, guys!

Here's my take: the public option is dead, dead, dead, and trying to resurrect it will only result in further delay in forging a consensus bill that can pass both Houses. Push it out to the Christmas break, and there will be no bill at all come January.

What's your take? Post a comment.

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