[Posted by Karl]
Before Saturday’s Senate vote to proceed to debate on HarryCare, the Senate GOP pointed to a Congressional Research Service study showing that 97% of bills subject to a cloture vote to begin debate ultimately pass. In reality, over time, cloture motions have been increasing and spreading to relatively routine bills. The exception in the study dealt with gun rights, and the Democrats’ attempted takeover of the US healthcare system is just as much a hot-button issue. Moreover, George Mitchell managed to get ClintonCare to the Senate floor in 1994, only to be forced into retreat weeks later. By buying nto the hype over Saturday’s procedural vote, the Senate GOP hopes to hang it around the necks of vulnerable Dems in 2010, but they also risked demoralizing the rank-and-file.
Outside Congress, Keith Hennessey updated his odds last week:
I am lowering from 60% to 50% my projection for the success of comprehensive health care reform.
1. Pass a partisan comprehensive bill through the House and through the regular Senate process with 60, leading to a law; (was 40% –> 30%)
2. Pass a partisan comprehensive bill through the House and through the reconciliation process with 51 Senate Democrats, leading to a law; (steady at 20%)
3. Fall back to a much more limited bill that becomes law; (was 20% –> 15%)
4. No bill becomes law this Congress. (was 20% –> 35%)
I think there is zero chance a bill makes it to the President’s desk before 2010. If a bill were to become law, I would anticipate completion in late January or even February.
I have lowered my projection of Leader Reid succeeding for three reasons:
1. Pretty much everything has to go right for him to win on cloture in mid-December. He has no more wiggle room on the schedule, and new intra-Democrat policy fights are popping up.
2. I think his members are going to get beat up about health care and jobs over Thanksgiving recess, then return to Washington to face another bad jobs day Friday the 4th.
3. If moderates demand large substantive concessions for their votes, liberals like Senators Rockefeller and Boxer may refuse. They may tell Reid they will oppose cloture if the bill moves toward the center, and instead advocate abandoning regular order and starting a clean reconciliation process in January. House liberals might join this effort.
I have long thought ObamaCare to be a 50/50 proposition at best, so I am heartened that a former insider like Hennessey has dialed back his odds. I still would quibble with a few of his assessments.
My primary quibble would be with his assessment of reconciliation as an option. Reid has currently taken reconciliation off the table. That in itself would not be a big deal, but we are also starting to hear lefties like Sen. Tom Harkin explain why reconciliation would not be a good thing for liberals. I also think that Hennessey underestimates how bad it would look politically if — after several weeks of normal debate — the Democrats tried to shift to reconciliation. Even the establishment media would be unable to avoid the narrative that Democrats were trying to ram an unpopular bill through the Senate after failing under the normal rules. Public opinion polling consistently shows very bad numbers for a “go it alone” approach. It is hard to think of anything the Democrats could do that would instantly make ObamaCare 10-20% more unpopular than to try passing it via reconciliation.
My secondary quibble would be with the notion that no bill is more likely than a minor bill. If the Democrats fail on a comprehensive bill, they will (imho) fall back to a minor bill of some sort. The reasons for this merit their own post, but we can start with the Democrats’ perception that they will be punished (at least by their base) if they fail to pass something.
As Byron York noted, the extraordinary part of Saturday’s vote was that it was as tough as it was for Reid to get debate started. The path gets no easier from here.