With the bipartisan health care reform summit history, President Barack Obama is turning to the future of his push to revamp America’s health care system. Here’s a simple way for President Barack Obama to demonstrate a commitment to cost containment and bi-partisanship. As he said in his weekly address this morning, “I am eager and willing to move forward with members of both parties on health care if the other side is serious about coming together to resolve our differences and get this done.”
He also made clear, however that he would move forward without Republican support if that was necessary. “I also believe that we cannot lose the opportunity to meet this challenge,” he said, concluding, “It is time for us to come together. It is time for us to act. It is time for those of us in Washington to live up to our responsibilities to the American people and to future generations. So let’s get this done.”
The other day I wrote about the three step process Democrats are likely to use to attempt to pass comprehensive health care reform. To summarize: House Democrats would pass the health care reform previously passed by the Senate. The Senate would pass a clean-up bill (which I’ve also heard referred to as “sidecar legislation”) that makes fixes the House and President Obama want that impacts costs and taxes. The House passes the clean up bill. The President signs both bills and health care reform, Democratic-style, is the law of the land.
Turns out this gambit, while legal and within Congressional rules, doesn’t play out as cleanly as I’d first surmised. John Nelson, a regular reader, brought to my attention that there are various ways Republicans can slow this process down to a crawl. The GOP could not filibuster the sidecar legislation because it is being considered under what’s called the reconciliation process. However, they may not need to. Under the rules governing the reconciliation process Republicans can introduce an almost unlimited number of amendments. While in theory the reconciliation process limits debate to 20 hours, the amendments could stretch out the debate for weeks.
As President Obama accurately noted during the health care reform summit, most Americans care more about the substance of health care reform than the process. However, it’s equally true that the legislative procedures used to push the issue this far have created a cloud over the substance of reform. Republicans have artfully used the messy give-and-take typical when drafting major legislation and cast it as a reason to oppose what was drafted. Some of these criticisms, such as the deals cut to favor specific states, are valid; others, such as condemning the legislation because the bills themselves are large, are spurious. But what’s undeniable is the drumbeat of criticism concerning process has undermined the substance of the bill (of course the serious problems with the substance of the bill hasn’t bolstered it’s popularity either).
If the Democrats could accomplish their legislative maneuvers quickly attention would shift to he substance of the legislation long before the November elections. In other words, like yanking off a bandage, the political pain generated by the process would be over quickly. If Republicans force Democrats to spend weeks mired in process, however, the political pain becomes increasingly greater – and perhaps unbearable.
What all this means is that the odds of comprehensive health care reform passing have improved considerably since the election of Scott Brown to the Senate from Massachusetts and the subsequent loss of the Democratic caucus’ 60 vote, filibuster-busting majority. But those odds haven’t increased as much as a I thought when I wrote about the three-step process Democrats would likely use to enact the reform legislation.
There are smart people on both sides of the issue. There are passionate people on both sides. The effort to pass – and to defeat – health care reform will continue. How it ends is anyone’s guess at this point.