President Barack Obama is scheduled to announce his final health care reform package tomorrow (Wednesday). This is the version of reform the President hopes Democrats in Congress will embrace and enact through a process that would side-step the inevitable Republican filibuster of health care legislation. Passage is far from assured. There are still several parliamentary maneuvers available to the GOP to slow the legislative process down. And it’s unclear whether Democrats can muster a majority behind any single bill to pass health care reform even if no super majorities are required.
Yet there are indications Democrats could be successful. For example, the House passed its health care reform bill by the slimmest of margins – 220-215 – last November. Only one Republican voted for the bill and he has indicated he won’t bolt his party again. Given that 218 votes are need to pass legislation in the House, this doesn’t give Speaker Nancy Pelosi much room for error. However, according to the Associated Press, “at least nine of the 39 Democrats” who voted against the health care reform bill in November are now “undecided or withholding judgment until they see Mr. Obama’s final product.”
That same Associated Press story also reports that the President is thinking of incorporating four Republican proposals raised during the bipartisan health care reform summit last week. These are: 1) using investigators disguised as patients to uncover fraud and waste; 2) increasing payments to Medicaid providers; 3) strengthening and expanding Health Savings Accounts; and 4) expanding the medical malpractice reform pilot programs already in his bill.
It’s not that the President thinks including these provisions increases the likelihood of any Republicans supporting his health care reform legislation. But it would provide Democrats with a useful talking point during the firestorm that would follow passage of reform legislation by a simple majority vote in the Senate. Democrats will be able to say something along the line of “We met with Republicans and had an open mind, even incorporating some of their cost saving ideas into the final package. And our package already included several provisions Republicans had supported now or in the past. Their unanimous opposition, consequently, obviously reflects politics more than policy so we had to find away around the filibuster. What we did was fair, legal and within the rules.” Or something along those lines.
What all this means is that there’s still several chapters to go in the never-ending story that is health care reform.
- Will Democrats find a way to bring health care reform votes to the floor of the Senate?
- Will the House vote first or wait until after the Senate takes action (if it ever does)?
- If a vote is taken, will there be sufficient votes to actually pass a bill?
- If Congress does enact health care reform legislation, how soon after the President signs it into law will it take before the first law suit is filed?
- Which party will suffer at the polls this November for the the procedural games both have played?
And on and on. Stay tuned.