Wednesday 23 September 2009

The “Gang of Seven” and “Commit to cloture”

Two new phrases to learn.

If the Republicans had embraced the Baucus bill, which was essentially designed for them, it would have passed in some form. But the Republicans doubled down their bets: apparently they know that any health bill will be bad for them, and/or they think they can prevent any good bill from passing. So the red-meat Republicans are up to their old tricks. In the current deliberations on the Baucus bill, Hatch is deliberately slowing down the process with endless, repetitive questions regarding the constitutionality of the bill, which is a bogus argument to begin with. He actually lectured Baucus for moving too fast. Jim Bunning took a nap during the deliberations; in his waking hours he demanded (with Snowe’s support) an unprecedented change in the committee’s rules regarding legislative language, which would delay the process for weeks. Pat Roberts demanded that the insurance lobby be given three days to attack the legislation. Then, stunningly, Republican Senator Demint is claiming that Obama’s effort on health reform is taking so long that it’s putting our troops in Afghanistan in danger -- hey, Jethro, which party has been delaying health reform for months?

The stalling tactics aren’t going to stop. This is how pathetic the fortunes of the GOP are right now: their only “victory” this year was preventing passage of health reform this summer, and now they hope to do so again, to prevent passage before the end of the year, in hope that the media will start mooing all over again, about how Obama has “lost control” of the process, and writing op-ed pieces all through the holidays about how health reform is dragging into 2010, an election year. This is all the “policy” the GOP has left: obstruction. This is why we need to get the process out of the hands of Baucus, who is perfectly willing to let the Republicans set the snail-like pace of the process, even if it means dragging this out indefinitely.

And of course the Republican lies and attacks are never ending, although the Democrats are fighting back for a change. While Roy Blount was getting nailed for comparing Obama to a monkey, the Republican party as a whole was getting nailed by the White House for trying to frighten seniors about Medicare: “These distortions and outright falsehoods would be offensive under any circumstances, but they’re especially disingenuous coming from a group who has a long history of opposing Medicare and who very recently tried to kill the program as we know it. Just this past April, nearly four-fifths of Republican House members voted to end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher program that provides a fixed sum of money to buy private insurance.” Ouch!

Now there’s a new problem. There’s a new Gang Of Seven – Snowe, Collins, Lieberman, Nelson (Nebraska), McCaskill, Landrieu, Wyden. This group dislikes both the public option and the reconciliation strategy; they want a cheap, bipartisan bill when it all goes to the Senate floor. The one positive sign is they don’t like the Baucus bill: Wyden, whom Obama likes, is worried about the lack of competition; Snowe is worried about affordability.

In the face of all the pressure to move to the right, at least one White House guy is wobbling. The White House Budget Director said a reform bill could be passed in 6 weeks, based mostly on Baucus bill. Orszag implied that the White House doesn’t consider the public option essential; coops or triggers could work also, provided that there is real competition. Two DC liberals are claiming that the White House is trying to persuade liberals to accept a trigger option in the Senate bill, after which the defect would be fixed in the conference report, although the report is now being denied. Another report says the White House is still seeking Republican support.

Which brings us to “commit to cloture”.

Instead of the reconciliation option, there is also the option of insisting that all 60 Democrats and Independents vote for cloture, even if they vote against the ensuing health care bill itself. Those Gang of Seven people (also the Gang Of Six people) would need to be convinced. Democratic leaders at both ends of Capitol Hill, as well as pro-reform unions, are discussing this daily, to include trying to pin down the Blu Dogs and Gangers on the cloture issue. Specter supports cloture and believes Snowe will too (I’m not convinced). Democratic strategists prefer the “commit to cloture” plan to the reconciliation plan, but the strongest option would be “commit to cloture” PLUS the threat of reconciliation if cloture doesn’t happen. In fact Obama may have sought the reconciliation option not to use it, but to use the mere threat of it to get what he wants. “Commit to cloture” allows the Dogs to have their cake and eat it too, to vote for cloture and then against the bill, whereas they could be left out entirely in a reconciliation effort.

The reconciliation option isn’t the only way to pressure Blue Dogs to do the right thing. They should also be told that committee chairs and political support can be taken away if they screw the President over. Or in Lieberman’s case, he could be thrown out of the caucus entirely, and lose ALL his committee memberships. The Senate Democratic leadership is moving in the direction of insisting that Democrats commit to cloture.

Keep in mind that the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too gambit should be sufficient for the key Blue Dogs, since the voters whom they represent are actually okay with the public option. Even in we-hate-Obama Arkansas they like it, which should make Lincoln and Pryor moveable. Maine as well, for that matter. And Connecticut .

So at the end of the day, Obama has a number of ways he can seek the plan he wants: he can get the plan in good shape during the “merge” between the HELP bill and the Baucus bill, or fix the problems in the bicameral conference report (as noted in the trigger option mentioned above), or go with “commit to cloture” and gamble that he won’t lose a single Senator, or reconciliation.

The liberal cause is stiffening in the House. House Blue Dogs are realizing that Pelosi can pass the public option if she wants to.

No comments: