[Posted by Karl]
Patterico and others have asked me to do the “What Next” post, now that Scott Brown is the Senator-Elect from Massachusetts. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I will borrow heavily from Keith Hennessey, who gamed much of this out before the election.
First, the general backdrop:
The Massachusetts Senate race has three potential effects on health care reform:
- Vote counting; and
- Potential blowback to the procedural response.
*** [T]he direct procedural effects are the least important. A 41st vote would give Senate Republicans the power to obstruct but not kill a bill. Even if Brown were to be seated Wednesday, the President would still have procedural options that allow him to enact a law with only Democratic votes. The increased power of Republicans would be indirect: they could make the process path more difficult, requiring the President, Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid to work harder to hold Democratic votes. If health care dies because of the Massachusetts election, it will be because nervous Democratic members refuse to support their Leaders’ response, not because Republicans have the votes to prevent a bill from becoming a law.
Second, the procedural options open to the Democrats: (1) Ram it through; (2) the House passes the Senate bill (“ping pong”); (3) reconciliation; and (4) grovel to Olympia Snowe. There is also the “two-bill strategy,” or “ping pong plus,” in which the House passes the Senate bill, with “fixes” in budget reconciliation — though Hennessey sees too many potential failure points with that strategy, and there has not been much reported support for it among Congresssional Dems (yet).
Accordingly, Hennessey made the following estimates, assuming a Brown victory:
- Ram it through: was 25% –> now 10%
- House folds: was 25% –> now 30%
- Reconciliation: was 3% –> now 1%
- Deal with Snowe: steady at 2%
- Two-bill strategy: 2%
- Collapse: was 45% –> now 55%
You can see that I’m increasing the chance that the bill collapses if Brown wins. I’m also shifting the balance between the first two options heavily toward the House folding. That’s not because I think it’s a good option or I can imagine it working. It’s simply because the intensity at the top for an accomplishment is enormous, and all other options look worse. The leaders would face vote counting challenges with pro-labor members, pro-life members, the Hispanic caucus on illegal immigrants, and many, many others. [Note: In budget reconciliation, Dems can fix items related to taxes and spending, like the excise tax on high-end insurance policies, but probably could not adjust provisions relating to abortion and illegal immigrants. — Karl]
I find it fascinating that a Senate election could shift the main locus of decision-making on this issue to the House. For months the focus has been on how Leader Reid holds 60 votes. If Mr. Brown wins, this becomes principally a House game, not a Senate one. And while I have learned never to underestimate Speaker Pelosi’s ability to get the votes she needs and hold her caucus together, a Brown victory could make that extremely difficult.
I will be watching Speaker Pelosi for signals about how the process will move forward. She’s got the health care process ball if Brown wins in Massachusetts today.
Of course, watching Pelosi for signals is a bit tricky, as she is prone to put out propagandistic talking points (e.g., her claim to have the votes for ObamaCare last summer, when events showed she clearly did not). Accordingly, when Pelosi says:
“I think everyone [involved in the health-care negotiations] agrees that there are certain things in the Senate bill that must be changed,” she said. “We do have our differences, and our members want to resolve those differences.”
We should not assume that “ping pong” is off the table, especially “ping pong plus.” On the other hand, we should not discount the possibility that Rep. Barney Frank (who is both smarter than Pelosi and not required to put on a defiant face) has correctly assessed that there will no longer be the collective will to march off a cliff for ObamaCare in an exercise of the sunk cost fallacy. And just for fun, I throw out a very unlikely scenario: The Dems continue to negotiate a bill that can pass the House (one that pleases the Progressive Caucus would be even better), expecting it to die in the Senate, and then try to blame the GOP for their failure. On a serious note, whatever Dems decide to do, they had better do it quickly — one of the key lessons here has been that the longer ObamaCare sits in the sunlight, the worse it stinks in public opnion.