House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and her henchpersons are whipping (that’s the technical term) Democrats to secure 216 votes to pass the Senate’s health-care bill. The Senate then would approve a companion “reconciliation” measure to deodorize some of the more pungent legislative bribes and corrupt deals that helped grease the Senate legislation’s passage last Christmas Eve. Nebraska’s so-called “Cornhusker Kickback,” the “Louisiana Purchase,” and Florida’s “Gator-Aid” are among the most sinus-piercing payoffs. The 40 percent tax on high-cost “Cadillac” health plans is one of several other provisions the House hopes the Senate will remove or repair.
Before they vote, however, wavering Democrats should wonder: “What if the Senate doesn’t deliver?” There is no guarantee that reconciliation will squeeze anything past the Senate, even with just 51 votes, rather than the oft-needed, filibuster-proof 60. “House Democrats are being . . . asked by the president to hold hands, jump off a cliff, and hope [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid catches them in the Senate after the bill is law,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) told CBS’s Face the Nation last Sunday.
Here are several ways the Senate could leave the House standing alone at the reconciliation altar:
Under reconciliation, senators may propose amendment after amendment, ad infinitum. Republicans could amend the Senate into paralysis. They could argue that Democrats made their hospital bed and should languish in it until November, when voters may pull the plug on the donkey party. Increasingly inflamed citizens might applaud such a GOP strategy and help Republicans dislodge Democrats for defying the American public. A March 16 Wall Street Journal/NBC survey of 1,000 adults found that only 36 percent consider Obamacare a “good idea,” while 48 percent call it a “bad idea.” (Error margin: +/- 3 percent.)
The Senate might excise some provisions that irk House members. But the Senate parliamentarian could disqualify votes on others, since reconciliation is limited to questions of taxes and spending. So, at least some items that Pelosi and company want the Senate to fix could remain law, assuming President Obama signs the Senate bill. He must do so before reconciliation can commence. Abortion far outpaces reconciliation’s revenues and outlays. So, pro-life Democrats will be bitterly disappointed if they expect the Senate to strike its own, pro-abortion language and embrace the pro-life Stupak Amendment. Insert your earplugs before imagining the reaction of Democratic senators Barbara Boxer of California or Barbara Mikulski of Maryland if anyone tried to make Stupak’s amendment law. President Obama cynically could sign the House-passed Senate bill and then develop late-onset reconcilaphobia. He and Senate Democrats could grow fond of the Senate bill. Such an Olympic-class bait and switch would enrage the already irate American public and could seal Obama’s fate as a one-term president.