Big victory for Reid but plenty of hurdles still remain

It's mostly about "process" now - strategies to get the health care reform monstrosity through the senate, into conference with the House, and then the vote for final passage.

In Majority Leader Reid's favor; momentum. His beg-borrow-steal-bribe strategy to get the votes simply to kick off debate on the bill in the senate may spell trouble later as Byron York writing in the Examiner asks the question, "Why was it so hard for Democrats to even start health care debate?"

"My vote to move forward on this important debate should in no way be construed by the supporters of this current framework as an indication of how I might vote as this debate comes to an end," said Sen. Mary Landrieu. And Sen. Ben Nelson said he will "oppose the second cloture motion -- needing 60 votes -- to end debate, and oppose the final bill" if major changes are not made.

Some of that is the normal positioning and bargaining that takes place when big bills are considered. But the Democrats' problems in keeping their side together, in the face of united Republican opposition, are an indicator of how public opinion is beginning to dominate the health care debate. Dozens of polls show that Americans are deeply divided over the issue, with a slight plurality opposing the Democratic health care plans currently under consideration in Congress. Clear majorities of Americans don't believe their health care will improve under the plan, and do believe the plan will increase the deficit. Given that, Democrats are trying to pass the biggest piece of legislation in decades, one that will create an enormous and permanent new entitlement, with less than majority support among the public. And they're racing to do it with less than a year to go before mid-term elections that most observers believe will result in fewer Democrats in Congress. No wonder it's hard.

Would Joe Lieberman join Republicans in filibustering the bill if the public option is still standing at the end of debate? Would any of the Democratic moderates in the senate?

If York is right - if public opinion has become a more powerful inducement to vote against the bill than party loyalty, Obama's presidency, and personal feelings toward Reid to vote for it, the bill may very well be in trouble.

But there has been very little movement downward in the polls for reform these last few months. Now that the debate has begun, the real push for opponents will begin. If those numbers start to plummet again, and if Reid insists on keeping some kind of public option on the table to please House liberals, it is very possible that when it comes time to vote on closing off debate, he will get less than 60 Democrats to vote in favor.

But realistically, I don't see that happening. The liberals will swallow their pain and agree to drop their support for the public option (or drastically curtail it) for now. That will allow the moderates in the senate to vote for final passage. After all, there are a lot of things in the bill that the left will try to ram through at a later date. To get their foot in the door, they will probably be willing to forgo nationalized insurance, hoping to drop it in next session.

Now the Democrats will try their best to make it seem as if final passage of the bill is an inevitability. The press will assist them in this strategy, hoping the public opinion numbers will inch up if people think the bill a foregone conclusion. But this is just blowing smoke. There's still a long, tough slog for nationalized health care to make it through the senate, through conference committee, and through to final passage. And the road is strewn with land mines that may yet cause health care reform to blow up in the Democrat's faces.




It's mostly about "process" now - strategies to get the health care reform monstrosity through the senate, into conference with the House, and then the vote for final passage.

In Majority Leader Reid's favor; momentum. His beg-borrow-steal-bribe strategy to get the votes simply to kick off debate on the bill in the senate may spell trouble later as Byron York writing in the Examiner asks the question, "Why was it so hard for Democrats to even start health care debate?"

"My vote to move forward on this important debate should in no way be construed by the supporters of this current framework as an indication of how I might vote as this debate comes to an end," said Sen. Mary Landrieu. And Sen. Ben Nelson said he will "oppose the second cloture motion -- needing 60 votes -- to end debate, and oppose the final bill" if major changes are not made.

Some of that is the normal positioning and bargaining that takes place when big bills are considered. But the Democrats' problems in keeping their side together, in the face of united Republican opposition, are an indicator of how public opinion is beginning to dominate the health care debate. Dozens of polls show that Americans are deeply divided over the issue, with a slight plurality opposing the Democratic health care plans currently under consideration in Congress. Clear majorities of Americans don't believe their health care will improve under the plan, and do believe the plan will increase the deficit. Given that, Democrats are trying to pass the biggest piece of legislation in decades, one that will create an enormous and permanent new entitlement, with less than majority support among the public. And they're racing to do it with less than a year to go before mid-term elections that most observers believe will result in fewer Democrats in Congress. No wonder it's hard.

Would Joe Lieberman join Republicans in filibustering the bill if the public option is still standing at the end of debate? Would any of the Democratic moderates in the senate?

If York is right - if public opinion has become a more powerful inducement to vote against the bill than party loyalty, Obama's presidency, and personal feelings toward Reid to vote for it, the bill may very well be in trouble.

But there has been very little movement downward in the polls for reform these last few months. Now that the debate has begun, the real push for opponents will begin. If those numbers start to plummet again, and if Reid insists on keeping some kind of public option on the table to please House liberals, it is very possible that when it comes time to vote on closing off debate, he will get less than 60 Democrats to vote in favor.

But realistically, I don't see that happening. The liberals will swallow their pain and agree to drop their support for the public option (or drastically curtail it) for now. That will allow the moderates in the senate to vote for final passage. After all, there are a lot of things in the bill that the left will try to ram through at a later date. To get their foot in the door, they will probably be willing to forgo nationalized insurance, hoping to drop it in next session.

Now the Democrats will try their best to make it seem as if final passage of the bill is an inevitability. The press will assist them in this strategy, hoping the public opinion numbers will inch up if people think the bill a foregone conclusion. But this is just blowing smoke. There's still a long, tough slog for nationalized health care to make it through the senate, through conference committee, and through to final passage. And the road is strewn with land mines that may yet cause health care reform to blow up in the Democrat's faces.




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