[Posted by Karl]
As I write this, the Senate is on track to pass its version of ObamaCare in the dead of night. That is something the Dems failed to do in 1994, when George Mitchell ended up having to pull ClintonCare off the floor. What was different this time?
First and foremost, the Dems have a larger caucus today. Absent Arlen Specter’s party-switch, or Al Franken’s 312 vote election victory, the story may have been different.
Second, the Obama administration bought off the special interests (or “stakeholders”) involved, following in a progressive tradition stretching back to Teddy Roosevelt. Some of today’s progressives are disgruntled over the current limits it puts on their ambition, but they would be just as unhappy if the bill(s) had sunk under the weight tens of millions of negative ads, as happened in 1994. They would just be unhappy at different people.
Third, the Senate GOP took the bad hand it was dealt and played it badly. Could the GOP have sunk ReidCare by being more obstructionist? Possibly. Had they been successful in dragging the debate into 2010, some Dems might have become more skittish. The leadership might have been tempted to try reconciliation, which would have looked terrible politicially and likely would have cranked public opposition to toxic levels.
But that is not the whole story. The other part (or another part) was the substance of the GOP amendments:
[I]t is not clear to me that the GOP is proposing amendments that would make it more difficult to pass the bill. *** For example, none of the amendments looks to be the “doc fix” that would force Dems to admit that they have not accounted for hundreds of billions of dollars they plan to spend. None of the amendments appear to address the “pay or play” employer mandate that is hated by both Right and Left.
As far as I know, those types of amendments were never proposed (and if they were, the fact that someone following the debate as closely as I am would be unaware of them would suggest that using the strategy of using amendments for “messaging” was an abject failure). Harry Reid expected a GOP “doc fix” amendment, which would have either eliminated the Dems’ false claims of deficit reduction, or aggravated the AMA (one of the bought “stakeholders”) and doctors generally. In 1994, a GOP amendment gutting the employer mandate passed unanimously, which was key to the ClintonCare’s demise. The opposition to ReidCare’s “pay or play” from Left and Right should have made it a similarly inviting target. Without effective mandates, the bill’s math would have fallen apart. These are just my two favorite examples. I am sure others have their own candidates.
Some point to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s track record of losing almost every major legislative battle he has managed. But the problem may be more systemic. The Senate GOP began almost entirely focused on the “public option,” and did not start turning against the mandates that drive ObamaCare until weeks after the summer recess. The Republican caucus may not be much less corporatist than their Democrat counterparts. The differences between today’s Senate GOP and 1994 may be: (1) Big Insurance is largely onboard with ReidCare; and (2) McConnell is not planning on running for president, as Bob Dole was in ’94.