[Posted by Karl]
What happens after the Senate Finance Committee works its way through the Baucus bill? In theory, Sen. Schumer and other libs could vote against it for failing to include a “public option,” but that would just be too funny to be true. So how does ObamaCare get to the Senate floor? Lefty blogger (and fmr. Capitol Hill aide) David Waldman has a useful overview of the process.
If the Democrats are serious about trying to ram ObamaCare through using the budget reconciliation process, the Baucus bill and the Kennedy-Dodd HELP bill would have to go through the Budget Committee. But that committee does not do any of the reconciling. Instead, it is required to essentially bundle the two bills together. Waldman adds:
Here it should also be noted that I have been unable to determine clearly whether or not the HELP bill, as it now stands, would even qualify for inclusion in a reconciliation bill. I am not certain whether it complies with the reconciliation instructions contained in the budget resolution which kicked this process off back in April.
Keith Hennessey has similarly noted that in reconciliation, the bill must not increase the long-term budget deficit, in any year beyond 2014 or by more than $5 billion in any of the four decades beginning in 2020. Hennessey wrote that “may be practically impossible,” which is why I am less sold on the threat of reconciliation than Hennessey has been lately.
The alternative to reconciliation seems to be a merged bill put together by Sen. Maj. Ldr. Harry Reid and the relevant committee chairmen (Harkin and Baucus, possibly Conrad). Reid has the power to bring such a bill to the floor through the magic of Senate Rule XIV. However, as Waldman notes, this is where the GOP enters the picture:
The Senate won’t have a formal debate on the ground rules for consideration of the bill the way the House will. They work their deals out privately and off the floor, if a deal can be reached at all. Anything they work out will then be memorialized in an unanimous consent request made and agreed to on the floor. That’s where they’ll make any agreements regarding what amendments might be offered, whether they’ll permit “painless filibusters” that require certain amendments (or all amendments, possibly) to garner 60 votes in order to succeed, etc. It’s highly likely that this would be the point at which public option opponents would use procedure to write out the possibility of passing any amendments that would put it back into the bill. Republicans might be tempted to forgo the opportunity to try to block the bill from coming to the floor at all, in exchange for an agreement that would virtually assure them that there’d be no public option in it, at least at this stage.
If there’s no unanimous consent agreement reached to bring the bill to the floor, Democrats have the option of trying to bring it up by a majority vote on a “motion to proceed to consideration” (or “motion to proceed” for short). That’s just what it sounds like: a motion that the Senate begin consideration of some bill or resolution. But like just about anything else in the Senate, that motion is debatable, which means it’s subject to a filibuster. You can, and these days often do, find yourself having to file for cloture on a motion to proceed. If that’s the case, you’ll have to make the motion, file for cloture, vote on cloture, and if you win, you then have to vote on the motion. Just winning cloture doesn’t do it by itself. Assuming you pass the motion (which would need just a majority), you get to move on to actually considering the bill itself. And if it required cloture just to get to a vote on whether or not to vote on starting debate, you can bet the bill itself will require a cloture motion, too. Which would be (at least) a third vote before you even get to a vote on final passage. Just two of those votes would require 60, though — the cloture motions. The motion to proceed and the vote on final passage would only require a majority. (Emphasis added.)
So there is another reason to think that the Democrats are likely to dump “public option” in the Senate.
There remains the much larger problem with the bill as John Hood reminds us:
It is critically important that we all understand what will happen if a Baucus-type bill passes even without a government-run plan or government-sponsored cooperatives. Once the federal government enacts a mandate that businesses or individuals purchase government-approved health insurance — along with new regulations that essentially abolish real insurance in favor of mandatory, prepaid health care for all comers — the resulting political dynamic will lead inevitably to the unraveling of the private market and a government takeover in the future. Once lawmakers and the special-interest lobbyists they listen to gain the ability to dictate the details of health plans to unwilling buyers, consumer-driven health care will be doomed.
The problem, then, isn’t a “public option.” It’s a government mandate.
The GOP is only now getting around to this key realization. In addition to pointing out that the mandate is an assault on liberty that will likely result in soaring premiums and soaring healthcare costs (and from there to rationing), Republicans might start pointing out that ObamaCare is not insurance, it’s welfare.
Addendum: After this piece was posted at the HotAir Greenroom, Sen. Harkin said Republicans will not be at the table when the Senate merges the health-care bills, which was to be expected. Sen. Reid said there will be a “public option” in whatever bill comes out of Congress, which has to be his public position, both to placate the left and establish a negotiating position with the GOP. Of course, the Dems would love a strong “public option” if they can get it, but the public statements of all sides should be taken with a grain of salt at this juncture.