Astounding news about how Senate Democrats feel about reconciliation

John Hagan writes:

The NYT has a balanced look at what the Democrats are up against trying to pass the health care bill. I don’t believe they have the votes. Nor do I believe that they will get them.

LA replies:

I’m not overly impressed by most of the examples they give in the article of reluctant moderate Democrats, as the objections of such people could be overridden and the members persuaded for the sake of the party to vote yes.

However, the article contains this killer paragraph:

The tactic [reconciliation] is intended to avoid a Republican filibuster, but in the Senate, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, faces challenges if he tries to use it. He is having trouble persuading a majority of his caucus to go along.

Did I read that right? Reid is having trouble getting a majority of DEMOCRATS to support reconciliation? Of course, he needs a majority of the whole Senate, i.e., he needs 50 Democrats plus VP Biden to pass reconciliation. But the Times is saying that he’s having trouble getting 30 Democrats (a majority of the current 59) to support reconciliation.

Maybe the Times writers misspoke. If they didn’t, then that is further strong evidence that the Dems simply can’t do this. It shows that Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad was not just speaking for himself when he said that reconciliation could not be used for a sweeping bill such as Obamacare. He was speaking for a majority of the Democrats. Astonishing.

But again, if this is the case, surely Beltway leftist commentators are aware of it. Whence, then, comes their arrogant certitude that the Democratic leadership has the votes to ram the bill through?

This whole situation just doesn’t make sense.

* * *

LA writes:

In what follows, I’m thinking aloud about today’s Times article John Hagan sent and the prospects for the bill. I have not followed the breakdown of House votes closely up to now and I’m sure I’m making various mistakes, which can be corrected.

Of the 39 Dems in the House who voted against the bill, 24 were Blue Dogs, i.e. moderate Democrats. That leaves at most 15 whom we’ll call leftists who opposed the bill because it blocked funds for abortion. Since Democrats overwhelming favor abortion, this means that a great number of leftist Dems voted for the bill despite the fact that it blocked funds for abortion.

Also, the Times article says:

Of the 219 Democrats who initially voted in favor of the House measure, roughly 40 did so in part because it contained the so-called Stupak amendment, intended to discourage insurers from covering abortion.

A side question: since when are there a significant number of abortion opponents among Democratic Party elected officials? I had thought that support for abortion had become virtually a membership requirement. Remember the famous incident when the late Gov. Casey of Pennsylvania, an abortion opponent, was closed out from speaking at the Democratic Convention?

Now, some rough calculations/guesses based on the above:

  • The last I heard, a core group of the anti-abortion 40, amounting to 12, the Stupak 12, say that they will not vote for the Senate bill because it includes abortion.

  • The Senate bill which would be put through the House under the reconciliation plan is more “conservative.” Therefore some of the 24 Blue Dogs will presumably support it who previously opposed it. That would be the major place for gains for the bill.

  • The Stupak 12, who previously supported it, will presumably vote against it.

  • Of the (at most) 15 leftists who voted against the House bill because it excluded abortion, presumably they will vote for the Senate bill.

So, let’s say that half of the 24 Blue Dogs who previously voted no, that is, 12 Blue Dogs, vote yes.

Let’s say that 15 leftists who previously voted no, vote yes.

Let’s say that the 12 Stupakites, who previously voted yes, vote no.

That’s a gain of 27 votes, and a loss of 12 votes. A net gain of 12 votes. Thus the bill can pass the House.

What’s wrong with my guestimate/reasoning?

The Times says it will be hard to win over the Blue Dogs who voted no, because they fear for their re-election. But that is nothing definite. They may feel they are already electorally doomed, and so can be persuaded to vote yes for the sake of the party.

But then I see this:

Others, like Representative Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvania Democrat who also voted against the House bill, seem to wonder aloud why Mr. Obama is bothering. With so many Democrats feeling nervous about their past votes in favor of the health bill, Mr. Altmire said, he can imagine vote-switching in only one direction: from yes to no.

“I don’t know of any no votes at this point that would switch unless the bill is substantially changed, including me,” he said. “And I know of a handful of yes votes who regret it and would relish the opportunity to put a no vote on the board so they could go back home and talk about that.”

Repeat: Altmere doesn’t see ANY of the 39 no votes switching to yes.

That’s pretty strong.

Still, these are vague statements. And also my feeling is that fear for one’s reelection, by itself, cannot be considered a reliable index that the member will vote against the bill, given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding this bill and the leadership’s absolute determination that it pass.

Therefore I’m left with my rough estimate of a net gain of 12 votes for the Bill and thus passage of the bill.

Which returns me to my earlier point. The strongest point in this article indicating that the bill cannot pass has to do with the statement that Reid is having trouble getting a majority of Democrats to vote for the bill under a reconciliation format. The bill could conceivably pass the House. It’s the Senate that represents the impassable obstacle.

Again, these are not definite conclusions. I am thinking out loud.

LA adds (March 1):

To restate and clarify my above point: It is possible that Pelosi can switch enough no votes to yes votes to pass the Senate bill in the House. It is impossible (based on Sen. Conrad’s definitive statements on the matter) that reconciliation can be useed to pass the bill. The most solid obstacle to the bill is not the number of votes, but the Senate rule which absolutely blocks the use of reconciliation for a bill of this nature.

- end of initial entry -

Paul K. writes:

Doesn’t it seem odd that liberal Democrats might be willing to stall Obamacare over the abortion issue? I heard a pro-Obamacare caller to an NPR program point out that anyone can afford an abortion; they’re not that expensive, and Planned Parenthood takes care of the indigent. I hadn’t given it much thought, but of course that’s true. This is a symbolic point for liberals rather than a practical concern.

LA replies:

“This is a symbolic point for liberals rather than a practical concern.”

Very much so. But it’s a sacred point for them.

But it’s also practical from the point of view of congressmen, in that key parts of the Democratic base are furious at Democrats for voting for the Stupak amendment and have threatened to walk away from the Party because of it. I may have had an entry on this a few months ago. Some important pro-abortion organization said to the House Democrats that they would rather the Democrats lose the Congress in 2010 than pass a health care bill that didn’t include abortion.

A. Zarkov writes:

From Breitbart TV we can see how Senate Democrats used to feel about reconciliation back in 2005 when they were out of power: it was a threat to the very foundation of the Republic. Sen. Obama said it would “change the character of the Senate forever.” But I can’t do the comments justice, one has to hear the Democrats pontificate in their own words. Today most everyone seems incapable of shame and embarrassment.

LA replies:

The issue then was not reconciliation, but something similar, the “nuclear option,” a measure that would by majority vote declare the use of the fillibuster constitutional. Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist discussed using it to overcome the Democrats’ stonewalling of Bush’s judicial nominees.

The linked Wikipedia article explains it.

However, those differences do not lessen the force of Mr. Zarkov’s point. The Senate Democrats in 2005 thought that the Republican idea of approving judicial nominees by a majority vote rather than a 3/5 vote was the most horrible thing ever proposed in the history of the United States.

March 1

Tim W. writes:

In the discussion of the health care bill, you wondered about the fairly large number of pro-life Dems in the House, noting that support for abortion was practically a religion among the leftist Dem leadership. It is true that the party leadership has been fanatically pro-abortion for years. But recognizing political reality, they grudgingly tolerate pro-life candidates in certain House districts where electing a pro-abortion candidate is nearly impossible. These are mostly rural districts in the south or blue collar districts in the rust belt. Stupak, for example, represents Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, filled with miners, iron workers, farmers, and longshoremen who are often sympathetic toward government programs but despise cultural liberalism. Others represent areas such as Wheeling, WV, South Bend, IN, or Montgomery, AL.

Once elected, these Democrats are kept off any key committee where abortion might come up as an issue. They know they’ll never rise to a leadership position or move up to the Senate without abandoning their pro-life stance. Some do, such as Dick Gephardt, Dick Durbin (believe it or not, he once spoke at a pro-life rally as a House member from Springfield, IL), and Harry Reid (yes, he was initially elected to the House as a pro-lifer). Others don’t, and to the leadership’s dismay they stick to their guns, as Stupak is doing.

Pelosi initially planned to bring the health care bill to the floor with no amendments permitted, meaning no pro-life amendment could be added. But Stupak, Kathy Dahlkemper, and other pro-life Dems threatened to vote down the bill unless their amendment was made in order. Pelosi folded and allowed a vote on the amendment, which passed easily. But her plan then was to count on the Senate to pass a version of the bill without the amendment and then not send any pro-life Dems to the conference committee that would reconcile the two versions. Thus the House would “concede” to the Senate on that issue. There are no truly pro-life Dems in the Senate, though there are a couple of them that claim to be pro-life and vote that way as long as it’s only symbolic, but fold when it’s a real life-or-death vote (i.e., Ben Nelson and Bob Casey’s disappointing son).

The leftist House Dems passed the bill assuming Pelosi would pull it off. But public opposition to the bill has continued to rise, and Stupak’s contingent has shown rare backbone. So it may be that the pro-life issue helps sink this abomination of a bill. The irony, of course, is that Obama swore during his big speech a few months ago that the bill would under no circumstances fund abortions. He was lying, but if he’d been honest and dropped abortion funding he might have gotten the thing passed.

LA replies:

That’s a very informative explanation. Thank you.

However, as I said above, we do not know for a fact that the inability to get enough votes in the House is an absolutely firm obstacle. What we do know (or think we know) is that the Byrd rule governing the use of reconciliation is an absolutely firm obstacle.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 28, 2010 10:16 AM | Send

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