[Posted by Karl]
The Democrats pushing a government takeover of the US healthcare system are now about where they thought they would be in July. It does not get easier from here. Sen. Maj. Ldr. Harry Reid is stuck having to come up with a bill merging the Finance Committee’s vapor bill and the Kennedy-Dodd HELP bill to bring to the floor under Rule XIV. He faces pressure from his Left, from which we can learn a bit about the state of play in the Democrats’ backroom.
Sen. Chuck Schumer is pressuring Reid to have the bill include the so-called “public option”:
“If he puts it in the final bill, in the combined bill, then you would need 60 votes to remove it. And there clearly are not 60 votes against the public option. And so we’re urging him to do that, and he’s seriously considering it.”
A source close to Reid e-mailed this response to ABC News:
“Perhaps Sen. Reid should consider giving Schumer the assignment to get 60 votes on the public plan of his choosing, since he says there is a groundswell of support for this idea.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is calling on Reid to strip Senate Dems of their committee slots if they won’t agree to vote against a filibuster — and Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley offered another snippy retort:
“Senator Reid is focused on crafting a health care bill that will overcome a Republican filibuster. Stripping Democratic Senators of their leadership titles is a decision that would be left up to the Caucus, not Senator Reid. In light of this reality it’s unlikely that the Caucus would ever go along with this idea.”
Liberals correctly note that GOP Senators cannot sustain a filibuster by themselves, which tells you that the Senate Dems have failed so far to reach unity on framework for the bill, especially on the “public option.” The statements also tend to confirm that every amendment to the merged bill will require a 60-vote threshold under whatever unanimous consent agreement brings the merged bill to the floor. So if the “public option” is left out of the merged bill, it will likely stay out — and vice versa.
We can get more clues about what may come out of the back room by looking at who will be in the back room. Reid will be there, as will Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (who does not think there are enough votes for the “public option.” They will be joined by Sen. Chris Dodd from the HELP Committee — which is interesting. The HELP Committee chairman is Sen. Tom Harkin, who replaced the late Ted Kennedy, and has been a vocal advocate for the “public option.” There will be White House players, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, Director of Legislative Affairs Phil Schiliro and White House-Senate liaison Shawn Maher.
And there will be… Sen. Olympia Snowe, who will bring her own agenda and tilt the negotiations in ways likely to give liberal Democrats heartburn. The decision to include her further signals the intentions of Reid (and likely the White House) about the shape of the merged bill, because now they have a Republican to blame for the compromises the moderate Democrats have probably sought behind the scenes. Indeed, Sens. Ben Nelson and Mark Pryor have adopted Snowe’s “wait and see” attitude toward any final bill, while Sen. Joe Lieberman says other centrist Democrats beyond the committee may also oppose a bill like the Baucus vapor bill. The moderate Dems likely will be with their party on most procedural votes but could hold out on the last one — to end debate and cut off a filibuster.
Snowe’s presence in the back room makes it more likely that the merged bill will drop the “public option” — or neuter it with a “trigger.” This will alienate roughly 30 Senate Democrats, the House Progressive Caucus (which claims a bill cannot pass the House without a strong “public option”), and their masters at Big Labor.
Snowe co-authored the amendment to the Baucus vapor bill reducing the threshold for the individual mandate penalty. Weakening the mandate is the issue that set the health insurer’s lobby on their multi-state, multi-million dollar campaign against ObamaCare. Yesterday, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association dropped its own study claiming that premiums will rise up to 50% for individual policies and 19% for small group plans if ObamaCare passes.
In short, the inclusion of Snowe in the back room may offer Reid & Co. some cover to try to attract moderate Democrats. But that tactic did not visibly move those centrist Dems — and Snowe’s positions will alienate everyone from Big Labor to the health insurance lobby.
Reid’s headaches do not stop there. There is the small question of money to pay for the bill. The Baucus plan to raise $201 billion from a tax on high-premium insurance plans is a non-starter with House progressivesand Big Labor, and opposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (and Sen. Robert Byrd, in all probability), Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Lieberman and perhaps others — dependng on whether blue states get cut a special deal on the tax. Of course, the more special deals that get cut, the more money that will have to be extracted in other ways. As it stands now, about 87 percent of the revenue in the original Baucus proposal to finance ObamaCare would come from individuals with incomes of less than $200,000. Yet even moderate House Dems oppose Rep. Charlie Rangel’s (D-NY) supposed “millionaires surtax” because they know it would hit small businesses in their districts.
In sum, as Reid tries to bring a merged bill to the floor, the Baucus-esque proposal most likely to meet Pres. Obama’s demand that healthcare reform not increase the deficit runs smack into opposition from an array of interest groups, Senate liberals and the House in general, both on the “public option” and on how to finance the scheme. There will probably be plenty of smoke in that back room, mostly coming from the ears of the people trying to square circles in it.