To make a law, a bill must be passed by both the House and Senate and signed by the President. This is what we all learned from the School House Rock song, right? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Both chambers want their say in a bill. If the House writes and passes a bill, the senate usually isn’t willing to just rubber stamp it into law. The senators want their own concerns addressed. So after the house passes a bill, the senate will usually write an entirely separate bill. Now we have a problem: no single bill has been passed by both chambers, so despite the fact both have passed a bill, nothing can yet be presented to the president. Here comes the fun part. Both bills are sent to a conference committee which creates a third bill. Now both houses vote on this, and then the president can sign it into law.
The Democratic “health care” “reform” bill is at the proper stage for conference committee. One bill has passed the House, and a second has passed the Senate. But Democrats can’t do this, because a committee bill would have to pass the Senate again. As of tonight, that’s not going to happen. The Republicans have picked up seat number 41 with the election of Scott Brown. This allows them to filibuster, or to essentially prolong debate on the bill indefinitely. Not only that, the fact that Brown was elected by Massachusetts is quite probably going to shake either Nelson or Bayh or Webb into the no camp. Remember: Obama’s been telling the Dems for months that the only way they can save their careers is to vote yes on Obamacare. Clinton has prolcaimed that the major Democratic defeat in 94 was caused, not by the same manner of voter disgust over Hillarycare as we see over Obamacare, but rather, by Congress’s inability to pass a bill. If that were true, we’d have a Senator Elect Coakley tonight instead.
If the Senate can’t be counted on to pass another bill, the only option Democrats have is to have the House pass the Senate bill which had already been passed verbatim. Through a process called reconciliation, which is immune to the filibuster but can only address strictly budgetary issues, the senate can pass modifications to the taxes planned to pay for this, but otherwise, the House has to accept everything the Senate gave them, or the bill is dead.
Is this going to happen? House leadership says yes. The average house Democrat, by all accounts, is much less optimistic. When the bill passed the house, it passed by 5 votes. One of those was the lone Republican, Joseph Cao, whom no one expects to vote for it again. Now if even two more Democrats flip, that means the bill will fail by one vote (because every vote which flips from yes to no subtracts one from the yes column and adds one to the no column, bringing the columns nearer by two).
Now, about twenty or so Democrats voted against the first bill, for various reasons. The House contains a coalition of “Blue Dogs,” or conservative Democrats. But these have been derided over the past three years as being all bark and no bite. It’s been argued that Pelosi is allowing these two dozen or so to vote no such that their largely conservative constituencies won’t vote them out, but if she needs the votes, she can get them. Nonetheless, if these representatives were allowed to vote no to save their jobs earlier, and now seeing Massachusetts have even more reason to fear for their jobs, one would have to be a pretty serious ideological liberal to flip one’s vote now.
So, for what it’s worth, I think this bill is dead. And I’m hoping to see one of the market-driven reform bills that have been written by the Republicans replace it after the Republicans either retake the house this November, or at least make the gains necessary to prevent the Dems from suppressing it like they have suppressed a half dozen palatable alternatives already.
About two hours after the election was called, I read that Barney Frank, who is no Blue Dog, has stated that the Democrats are not going to be able to continue as if the Massachusetts election hadn’t happened, and will have to try to pass a revised version of the current bill through the Senate. If the House leadership can’t get Frank on board with the pass-the-Senate-bill-verbatim strategy, it’s not going to happen. The day after the election was called, we have Obama himself making similar, if cryptic statements. Democratic leadership has awoken to the fact they overstepped with Obamacare, and do not intend to destroy their party with what everyone would now see as cheap antics. There is still talk of a compromise which would be diluted so that it can get the approval of Senate moderates, but such, if even possible, would require foundational and revolutionary changes such that it wouldn’t even be the same bill, I think I’m justified in reiterating, this bill is dead.