Stop an arcane parliamentary maneuver - "reconciliation" - and the odds improve at stopping the Democrats march toward socialized medicine. But Republicans can't do it; not alone, anyway. It's up to the legions of Tea Partiers and average Americans to win the fight.
Reconciliation is aimed at dramatically restricting debate and banning filibuster on budget-related matters. It allows for a simple up or down vote. Senate Democrats are keeping it as an option if progress lags in recasting healthcare as a government-run enterprise. A good bet is that they'll invoke it. Why?
Because a thorough public airing and extensive Senate debate will expose the Democrats' plan for what it is: a demolishing of the doctor-patient relationship in favor of a politician-bureaucrat driven system; and a system all about rationing.
Democrats are quick to say that Republicans used reconciliation when they were the majority. That's true, but it was used principally to get up or down votes on lowering taxes, not upending a huge portion of the nation's economy.
Democrats' willingness to use reconciliation is a sign of weakness, not strength. It is critical to understand that a party confident in its ideas and proposals, especially about momentous changes to healthcare, would not need to hustle legislation through Congress.
Proof lies in the facts that Democrats rushed the second economic stimulus package and the budget through Congress. Democratic leaders allowed no serious deliberation, debate or dissent. Only in hindsight are voters and taxpayers able to understand the ramifications and see how trillions of their dollars are being spent.
Stunting the legislative process is tantamount to disenfranchisement. It effectively sidelines citizens, who have every right to have input into the making of law - especially when it concerns their healthcare.
A Strategy: Tea Party Americans versus Senate Democrats
As long as reconciliation remains inside baseball, it is a potent weapon for the Democrats. They wish to shorten and close the process because they fear an extended debate may consign their plan to the same fate as HillaryCare in 1993.
Senate Republicans are nearly powerless to stop the majority Democrats from using reconciliation, though they've threatened to grind the Senate to a halt using other parliamentary tricks. That remains to be seen. Yet, with the eager assistance of the main stream media, Senate Democrats would have little problem tarring Republicans as obstructionists.
That's harder to accomplish if the fight over reconciliation boils down to Americans at the grassroots versus the Democrats. Branding voters and taxpayers obstructionists is dangerous for politicians. Democrats have already done it once. Dismissing and demeaning the Tax Day tea parties across the nation is a miscalculation that Democrats will pay for dearly in 2010. Voters have long memories when their hires choose to belittle them.
Tea party organizers have the chance to mobilize their communities and lead the fight for a free, open and fair legislative process. The public has a right to know, and a right to be heard.
What will Democrats say to average citizens who insist that the process not be closed? When citizens insist that a proposal to radically change the nation's healthcare merits thoughtful examination, real discussion and real debate?
If Democrats are smart, not much. But if they're not smart, they'll only add to the growing perception that they're out-of-touch elitists.
A Pledge for Free, Open and Fair Debate
In states where there are Democratic senators, tea party organizers should present them with pledges for their signing. In no way should these senators support efforts by their leadership to scuttle the process. That means "no" to reconciliation, and "no" to cloture, provided that Minnesota comedian Al Franken has been seated. Then, again, cloture may be hard for the Democrats to achieve.
North Dakota senator Kent Conrad, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has already expressed serious reservations about invoking reconciliation. Other Democrats, like Nebraska's Ben Nelson, may follow Conrad's lead. And there's the always fickle Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter -- a joker in anyone's deck. Nor might these Democrats go along with a cloture vote.
Getting Senate Democrats on record is critical. Nudging Democrats to sign a pledge is likewise important. Constituent outreach is the way. Calls, letters, speaking at town halls and meetings, formal and informal, are tools. So, of course, is the internet and talk radio.
Activities over the Memorial Day weekend would be most appropriate. After all, Memorial Day is about honoring men and women who died fighting for our liberty. That liberty includes citizen participation in government and congressional transparency. Politicians are public servants, and they can't be allowed to forget it.
Open Debate is an Opportunity, not a Result
An open legislative process doesn't guarantee that the big government freight train headed for the nation's healthcare system will be derailed. But what it does is give advocates of free market alternatives and consumer empowerment a fighting chance.
The Founders understood that human beings are Small C conservatives - conservative by nature. Americans don't usually support big changes made hastily by government. Our system of checks and balances is intended to slow government, allow for deliberation, examination and for opponents to raise concerns and present options.
Healthcare is in need of reform - free market reform - but it's not in crisis. All Americans are entitled to an open, transparent legislative process. But it's not Senate Republicans who can make the process fair or stop the hijacking of the nation's healthcare. That's up to Americans -- Tea Party Americans -- who prize freedom.