The health care dance is not over—but it’s only a dance

Earlier this evening I posted an AP article which said that “Democratic Congressional leaders confronted the reality Tuesday that they may not be able to pass the comprehensive health care overhaul…” Coming from the partisan liberal AP in the immediate wake of Obama’s revamped bill, I took that as a decisive sign that this thing isn’t going to fly.

However, an article tonight at Politico differs almost 180 degrees from the AP piece:

Senate Dems warm to reconciliation

An idea that seemed toxic only weeks ago—using a parliamentary tactic to ram health reform through the Senate—is gaining acceptance among moderate Democrats who have resisted the strategy but now say GOP opposition may force their hands.

The implications of the subtle shift among this small group of centrist senators could mean the difference between success and failure for health care reform—giving Democrats a potential road map for passing a bill that had been left for dead after the Massachusetts Senate defeat.

That mood in the Senate was matched Tuesday by a growing momentum for President Barack Obama’s health care proposal in the House, where Democrats were beginning to coalesce around the view that passing a flawed bill is better than passing none at all.

These shifts couldn’t come at a better time for Obama ahead of Thursday’s health care summit. The White House has signaled he’s prepared to use reconciliation, which would require just 51 votes to pass health reform.

I don’t believe it. I think that the Politico writer, Carrie Budoff Brown, is echoing Obama administration talking points, as part of the shaping of public opinion leading up to the “summit.” And in support of what I’ve just said, Brown at the end of the article turns around and completely undercuts what she said in the opening paragraphs:

To be sure, the hints on reconciliation do not signal any kind of ironclad commitment. Democrats remain hesitant about using the procedure, fearful that Republicans will be successful in convincing voters that it is an end-run around the normal legislative process.

It also remains unclear whether Democrats can even pull it off, given the strict rules governing bills passed through reconciliation, which requires the entire legislation—down to a single line—to have an direct impact on the federal budget. Simple policy changes, such as the president’s new proposal to establish a federal review board on insurance rates, are unlikely to survive.

Although he has remained open to the idea, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota fired another warning shot Tuesday about the limits of reconciliation, saying a narrow bill might pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, but not a measure nearly as broad as the proposal put forth by Obama.

[end of article]

Remember, all the players—and the reporters are players too—are engaged in a political dance. Thus moderate Senate Democrats put out “hints” (that’s Brown’s word) that they may support reconciliation, while also expressing reservations about it; and Politico turns those mere hints into the sensational lead:

Senate Dems warm to reconciliation

An idea that seemed toxic only weeks ago—[reconciliation]—is gaining acceptance among moderate Democrats…

But when Kent Conrad, who as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee would presumably play a leading role in the reconciliation process, since reconciliation is a budget measure, states that reconciliation cannot be used to pass a measure nearly as broad as Obama’s proposal, then that shoots down the assertion made in the article’s lead. Given the definitiveness of Conrad’s statement, as contrasted with the pro-reconciliation “hints” from some senators, the correct and honest headline and lead of this article would have been:

Top Senate Dem shoots down reconciliation

Firing yet another warning shot at the White House today, Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad repeated that reconciliation might be used to pass narrow measures, but cannot be the basis for passing Obama’s sweeping health care bill.

That’s what Brown actually reported. But she didn’t say it until the 14th paragraph—the last paragraph—of the article.

Brown’s job is to keep the dance going—and how can we know the dancer from the dance?

- end of initial entry -

Ken Hechtman writes:

Let’s say you’re right and the Democrats have no intention of passing a health-care bill. What do they gain by dragging the process out?

The longer the process goes on, the more their voter base will be disappointed when it doesn’t produce a bill and the less likely they’ll be to come out and vote in November. And that’s the prospect that already has Democrats lying awake at night—the millions of first-time black, Hispanic and young white voters who came out for Obama in 2008 might not see any point to voting in 2010 and stay home.

LA replies:

When I said that “all the players … are engaged in a dance,” the examples I gave were not of the leaders who are pushing the bill, but of the secondary players who are reacting to it, positioning themselves in relation to it. So let’s say that Obama and the Congressional leaders want to pass it. But the Dems who “hint” that they might support reconciliation, but don’t commit themselves to supporting it, are engaged in a dance. The reporter who takes those hints and falsely builds them up into a misleading headline and lead paragraph, is engaged in a dance. As for the leaders, I did not mean, at least in this entry, that all that they intend to do is to dance (though I did suggest in another entry, as a way-out theory, that that was true of Obama). I meant that, whether they think they can pass it or not, everything they are doing adds up in the end to nothing more than a dance, because, based on the evidence before us, such as Sen. Conrad’s statement, the bill cannot pass.

LA continues:

As for whether the Democratic base will be more alienated by the process being dragged out for months without success, or by Obama’s failing to push the bill for as long as he can keep pushing it, I don’t know the answer.

Ken Hechtman replies:

If we’re talking about low-information first time voters, I figure it’s the first possibility. Low-information voters don’t know or care about filibusters and cloture supermajorities and reconciliation votes. They’ll assume a president plus a majority of senators could have passed anything they really wanted to pass.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 24, 2010 01:14 AM | Send

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