Patterico's Pontifications


Will Democrats play chicken with Healthcare?

Filed under: General — Karl @ 11:14 am

[Posted by Karl]

The Sorosphere is pushing congressional budget leaders to consider ramming Pres. Obama’s healthcare agenda through the Senate as part of the budget reconciliation process to bypass a filibuster and allow Democrats to pass a bill without Republican votes.  The AARP is not on board, recognizing the need for bipartisanship on the issue.  Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) also say that healthcare legislation must be bipartisan if it is to have lasting durability.

JournoListist Ezra Klein — who used to be a fan of the filibuster — suddenly favors the tyrrany of the majority, but provides an explanation of why trying to take over the healthcare system in the budget process is a dangerous idea:

If you want to know why we do not today have a 50-vote Senate, the Byrd rule is the reason.  The Byrd rule imposes a set of sharp constraints on the reconciliation process, limiting what is considered appropriate for reconciliation…


The matter is not simply academic: The Byrd rule allows senators to challenge the acceptability of any provision (undefined) of a reconciliation bill based on whether or not its effect on government revenues is “merely incidental” (undefined). Thus, if you enter reconciliation with a health-reform bill, it’s not clear what’s left after each and every provision — however that is defined — is challenged and a certain number of them are deleted altogether: the tax portions, certainly. And the government subsidies. But is regulating insurers “merely incidental” to government revenues? How about reforming hospital delivery systems? How about incentives for preventive treatment? Or the construction of a public plan? An individual mandate?

It’s hard to say. The ultimate decision is left up to the Senate parliamentarian, whose rulings are unpredictable. Under George W. Bush, Republicans managed to ram tax cuts, oil drilling, trade authority, and much else through reconciliation. But they were as often disappointed: The GOP leaders fired two successive Senate parliamentarians whose Byrd rule rulings angered them.

Taken as a whole, the uncertainty of the reconciliation process transforms it into a game of chicken: If Republicans refuse to cooperate with health reform and force Democrats to resort to reconciliation, no one knows what will emerge out of the other end. Republicans might have no input, but Democrats will be at the mercy of an obscure bureaucrat’s interpretation of an undefined Senate rule. It’s the legislative equivalent of deciding a bill on penalty kicks. 

Budget writers like Sen. Conrad know this as well as Klein does.  Indeed, the Byrd rule was a major factor in the unraveling of the Clinton healthcare plan in 1993-94.  One of the few things worse than socialized medicine would be trying to legislate it through the budget, resulting in a Rube Goldberg contraption missing all sorts of parts.


33 Responses to “Will Democrats play chicken with Healthcare?”

  1. Some Senate Dems may not sign off on this. I think Sen. Feinstein may dissent, for example.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R., (0a7219)

  2. DiFi…They’ll just include an AW Ban as a “health-care improvement issue” and she’ll sign on.

    AD - RtR/OS (19c3d6)

  3. I want them to fail.

    Mr. Pink (eae12c)

  4. Yeah, there are few Dems who are expressing some reserve about this looming budgetary fiasco – and most are the same ones who ran into their holes after saying similar things about the last budgetary largess, which passed immediately with no debate nor review. Anyone want to lay down some odds on this happening again?

    Dmac (49b16c)

  5. Dmac,

    The point is that the Byrd rule likely imposes the 60-vote requirement for most of the healthcare stuff. So you really only need to hold the GOP or an occasional Dem. And the “chicken”-like nature of that is why Conrad is ultimately going to balk at trying to stuff it into the budget in the first instance.

    Karl (d826c5)

  6. The KleinoList:

    , but Democrats will be at the mercy of an obscure bureaucrat’s interpretation of an undefined Senate rule

    Funny he, a single payer proponent, would raise an alarm about being at the mercy of an obscure bureaucrat’s interpretation of something.

    MayBee (76de11)

  7. Oh Lord, won’t ya buy me a Mercedes Benz?
    My health care is in tatters,
    Soros won’t make a-mends.
    I hope that the Byrd rule agrees with my friends,
    Oh Lord, won’t ya buy me a Mercedes Benz?

    GM Roper (85dcd7)

  8. MayBee,

    Heh. Indeed.

    And good to see you on Teh Twitter.

    Karl (d826c5)

  9. Thanks, karl. But you ignored my Twitter question!

    MayBee (76de11)

  10. You said: “Under George W. Bush, Republicans managed to ram tax cuts, oil drilling, trade authority, and much else through reconciliation.”

    Is any conservative on record warning Bush not to do this lest he be disappointed?

    Andrew (30287d)

  11. Yeah, they probably warned him that he risked his re-election in ’08 by doing that.

    AD - RtR/OS (19c3d6)

  12. MayBee:

    “Thanks, karl. But you ignored my Twitter question!”

    Didn’t see it. I’ll go look for it, though I’ve noticed the FAIL whale swallows even my own tweets at random.

    Update: Found it, will reply.

    Karl (d826c5)

  13. Apparently he does not know how parliamentary procedure works, the parliamentarian only makes a recommendation, the Senate presiding officer makes the ruling.

    ParatrooperJJ (8a6914)

  14. I know this. I do not want to farm out my children’s sensational healthcare to some Washington boondoggle. Period.

    JD (85cf0b)

  15. Now you’re just being silly, JD – thinking you actually have a say in this process.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  16. I would be willing to have all heath care procedures performed by Rube Goldberg devices, instead of people, so long as the devices had all their parts.

    Christian (940f05)

  17. Tangent Warning (maybe even wholly OT warning): People are going BANANAs over domestic oil production, oil shale conversion, coal mining, wind farm construction, solar farm construction, nuclear power plants, new power lines, all of which would make the US much more self-sufficient and much less dependent on exporting huge cargo vessels full of greenbacks to import huge tankers full of enemy-produced oil. The cost of living would drop and the number of domestic high-paying jobs would increase if the leftist nut-jobs would get out of the way. And those jobs would carry with them health benefits.

    Across the board tax cuts, yes cuts on people who actually pay income taxes (the wealthy), will make everything more affordable, including health care, on many facets.

    TORT reform, killing those frivolous multi-million-dollar lawsuits, has long been an aim of a great many Conservatives, and will greatly reduce the cost of many goods and services. In Ohio, where TORT has arguably gotten out of control in many arenas, cannot find enough MDs to replace the MDs who are leaving the state or the field due to the high cost of doing business in Ohio. It is the liberals who refuse to allow meaningful TORT reform. It is also the liberals who demand socialist health care.

    John Hitchcock (fb941d)

  18. Tort Reform? With this cast of characters? Surely you jest.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  19. Looks like the soon to be very real health care reform that Obama promised is already having a positive effect:

    Peter (e70d1c)

  20. The mere thought of this group even saying the words “tort reform” is laughable.

    JD (85cf0b)

  21. If the Democrats see this as an opportunity to give themselves a permanent electoral advantage over Republicans, of course they will play chicken with healthcare. It’s all about votes and power, not helping people. Just look at all the special interests who were taken care of in the stimulus bill that wasn’t actually stimulus.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  22. It’s because of that Party before country attitude that Democrats seldom miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The course of the Obama administration so far is playing out nicely along those lines.

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  23. Just a sidenote (also very OT, but connected to a different post): I used to be able to afford to rent, but not own a top-hat and tails, but was never interested in a smoking jacket (any jacket that does what I want to do is no good to me). Being unemployed without unemployment income since Thanksgiving week means I cannot afford to rent a pencil right now. So, huge tax cuts on the “wealthy” will only benefit me by allowing one of those “wealthy” to hire me.

    John Hitchcock (fb941d)

  24. The course of the Obama administration so far is playing out nicely along those lines.

    A nice sentiment, but they aren’t failing fast enough, at least not until they inflict long – lasting damage to our country.

    Dmac (49b16c)

  25. The real reason Obama is pushing this now is that in a deep recession, like the one that is forming, lots of people will lose their health benefits. This creates a constituency that is normally not there. What killed Hillarycare was not the ads or the Byrd Rule, it was the economy improving so quickly. People who HAVE employer health benefits are pretty dead-set against government takeovers.

    Kevin Murphy (805c5b)

  26. Kevin – And those people will vote for the Democrats over the foreseeable future! SCORE!!!!111!!

    daleyrocks (5d22c0)

  27. Beggars are easier to please.

    Kevin Murphy (805c5b)

  28. AARP is against it? Hmmm, what could they be wanting?

    I want a filibuster. It’s time to say no to these statists.

    Patricia (2183bb)

  29. Peter, as I’m sure you know, that’s not a positive effect.

    Insurers not charging sick people more = insurers charging healthy people more than they should be.

    I wash my hands, eat right, exercise, don’t do drugs, drive safely, and am monogamous.

    I nearly never get sick. I deserve to pay a lot less for my health insurance than people who get sick all the time.

    Juan (4cdfb7)

  30. […] that is before the threatened attempt to railroad healthcare reform runs into the Byrd rule in the Senate.) Obama’s tax plans are as unrealistic as his miniscule spending […]

    The Greenroom » Forum Archive » Obama’s budget: The honeymoon and the morning after (e2f069)

  31. […] Klein certainly should have known that trying to railroad Obamacare through as part of the budget reconciliation process would be problematic in the Senate. Indeed, I blogged his explanation of why this was so back in March. […]

    The Greenroom » Forum Archive » Sen. Conrad Reveals Trouble for Obamacare (e2f069)

  32. […] Silver still thinks trying to use the budget reconciliation process to pass healthcare reform is an option, but he underestimates the difficulties, which I have been noting for months. […]

    The Greenroom » Forum Archive » Happy talk will not jump-start Obamacare (e2f069)

  33. […] ramming a partisan healthcare bill through the budget reconciliation process, though that is a risky gamble under the best of circumstances. Immaturely accusing a key Senator of being petty and corrupt […]

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