Tuesday, January 19, 2010

No Time for Complacency

Scott Brown has won the Massachusetts Senate seat--which will give Republicans 41 votes to filibuster undesirable bills. It's not all cake and roses though. Brown voted for the disastrous government-run healthcare plan in Massachusetts (complete with an individual mandate to purchase health insurance) and has supported greenhouse gas curbs--so he's not a die-hard free-market guy by a long shot. But, Brown centered his campaign on promises to vote against Obamacare and cap-and-trade---and it was those promises that turned this race into a referendum on Obama's political agenda.

So, there is a chance that we may escape some of the more egregious assaults on our freedom and prosperity---- a least for a while. But there is also a chance that we won't.

In the article, "Why Massachusetts Doesn't Matter," from today's American Prospect, Paul Waldman outlines ways the Democrats can ignore the message of Massachusetts' election (as well as the growing disapproval throughout the country with Washington's attempts to rapidly pass massive, expensive and intrusive legislation.) It's actually pretty frightening just how easily they could pull it off. Please read the whole article, but here are a few salient paragraphs.

[E]ven if Brown should prevail, there is a path -- more than one, actually -- for Democrats to lunge across the finish line and pass health-care reform. It might not be pretty, but after the last year of legislative ugliness, it won't much matter.


The first path would be for the House -- where they have this strange tradition in which the majority rules -- to simply pass, as is, the bill that already passed the Senate. Obama would sign it, and the infrastructure of reform would be in place. Then they could attempt to correct some of the Senate bill's weaknesses in the reconciliation process, which only requires 51 votes (though it does limit which parts of the bill can be addressed).


The other path -- and the preferable one, from a policy perspective -- would be to get the bill done before Brown is sworn in. Keep in mind that the White House and congressional leaders are nearly done hammering out the differences between the two chambers' bills. Though reports about what is in this version are sketchy, it looks to be a considerable improvement on the Senate bill. They have to get a score from the Congressional Budget Office, which takes a few days. Then depending on how the bill is offered in the Senate, a vote could come within a few days after that. In other words, no matter what happens in Massachusetts, if Democrats decide to move things through quickly, we could get a vote on health care within 10 days.


Last week, Brown alleged that a conspiracy was afoot to prevent him from taking office until health reform passes. But no conspiracy would be necessary. According to the person in charge of elections in Massachusetts, Secretary of State William Galvin, state law requires local election officials to wait 10 days after the election to make sure that all overseas and military ballots have been returned; they then have five more days to submit their official results. That's over two weeks right there. Then the Senate has to arrange for the vice president, in his role as president of the Senate, to preside over the swearing-in. That could add a few more days, depending on his schedule. Put it all together, and it should be relatively easy to pass health-care reform before the new senator takes office, even without engaging in any of the delaying tactics Republicans routinely use (recall that because of Republican challenges to his victory in the 2008 Senate contest in Minnesota, Al Franken didn't take office until eight months after the election).


Hopefully they won't have the hubris to attempt any of those tactics, but since they are politicians, it's hard to feel too safe.


UPDATE 1/20/09: Commenter Chris Hibbert gave an important (and encouraging) clarification on the bill-passing process:

Waldman is a little confused about the legislative process. His first proposal is that "The House [would] pass, as is, the bill that already passed the Senate. Obama would sign it, and the infrastructure of reform would be in place. Then they could attempt to correct some of the Senate bill's weaknesses in the reconciliation process." But reconciliation happens before a bill passes, when there are two versions to reconcile, one produced by the Senate, and the other produced by the House.

If the House passes the Senate's bill, they have to pass new legislation if they want to clean things up. The could still pass the Senate version, but that would mean abrogating any deals made with recalcitrant congresscritters. They'd have plenty of reason to say "this
wasn't the deal I agreed to."


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2 comments:

Chris Hibbert said...

Waldman is a little confused about the legislative process. His first proposal is that "The House [would] pass, as is, the bill that already passed the Senate. Obama would sign it, and the infrastructure of reform would be in place. Then they could attempt to correct some of the Senate bill's weaknesses in the reconciliation process." But reconciliation happens before a bill passes, when there are two versions to reconcile, one produced by the Senate, and the other produced by the House.

If the House passes the Senate's bill, they have to pass new legislation if they want to clean things up. The could still pass the Senate version, but that would mean abrogating any deals made with recalcitrant congresscritters. They'd have plenty of reason to say "this wasn't the deal I agreed to."

Beth said...

Chris,
Thank you for the comment. It's an important enough clarification, I am going to make it an "update."