Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Health Care Reform Passes Senate Finance

The Senate Finance Committee passed its version of health care reform today. Woo hoo! That's a big one, the last committee vote. One Republican voted for it: Olympia Snowe, of Maine. Personally, I'm glad I can finally rest easy and not worry about whether or not she is going to vote for this committee bill.

Except that, of course, I now have to worry about whether or not she is going to vote for the final bill, and whether or not that will include a public option. Brian Beutler at TPM provides a good analysis of Snowe's role in the end game. If she supports the final bill, does that give moderate Democrats political cover? The problem with this analysis is that ignores the fact that the Democrats have a 60-vote majority. At some point, Obama is going to start twisting arms, and make supporting this legislation a key test of party loyalty. "Supporting the President" has a lot of pull in DC. At the end of the day, they are Democrats.

There is no question that some bill will pass. The only question is what will be in it. Republicans want to water down the public option. Snowe will score points with Republicans if she can claim that she used her leverage to make it a better bill, as Republicans define it. Of course, there's also the issue that she will look the odd woman out if she is the only Republican to vote for it. Critics on the right will be able to make her a convenient target, and they can easily accuse her of selling out.

But there is one thing that has to be keeping Republican leaders up at night: it is entirely possible that the Democrats know what they are doing. What if this bill really does bring a lot of resolution to the health care crisis? What is a public option turns out to be a good thing?

What if Barack Obama is right?

That possibility has to have people like Mitch McConnell just terrified. That is one of the basic rules of politics: you have to keep in mind that sometimes (hopefully rarely), your opponent will be right, and you will be wrong. The tricky part is knowing when to admit that. The trickier part is knowing when to recognize it.

The fact that one Republican might vote for this bill means that Republicans are hedging their bets. Democrats, to their great credit, have been very open to Republican suggestions during this debate. It was extremely frustrating for the Kossacks to watch Max Baucus negotiating with the Republicans on his committee for what seemed like forever, but there is no way that Republicans can say that Democrats rammed this down their throats.

So Republicans have to keep in mind that the Democrats might be right. If they are right, the fact that one Republican voted for it, and several Republicans on this committee negotiated with Baucus in good faith, would mean that the Republicans could claim that they had some influence on the bill, and it was their contributions that made it a better bill. Of course, the fact that almost all of them voted against it would be a rather effective counter argument.

The Republicans beat Clinton on health care. Newt Gingrich took that victory and ran with it, winning the House in 1994, much to the Democrats' surprise. But Clinton won reelection in 1996, and Gingrich was eventually forced out of office.

Obama's bill will probably be much better than Clinton's would have been. So Republicans won the battle back in 1993, but with this bill, they will have lost the war.

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