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The ObamaCare Bluff

So, according to the New York Times this morning, Democrats on Capitol Hill are now considering a “go it alone” approach on health-care legislation; no longer will they attempt to negotiate with Republicans, who are determined to defeat any proposal, but will instead “go it alone”:

Given hardening Republican opposition to Congressional health care proposals, Democrats now say they see little chance of the minority’s cooperation in approving any overhaul, and are increasingly focused on drawing support for a final plan from within their own ranks.

Democrats are free to do this because of their insuperable majorities—a 35-seat advantage in the House and, more important, 60 in the Senate (assuming every Democratic senator falls in line, 60 votes is enough to prevent Republicans from blocking “cloture,” which ends debate on a piece of legislation and allows the Senate majority leader to bring it to a vote).

Despite the breathless prose of the story by Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny, which reads as though it had been dictated by a Democratic-party strategist rather than written, the effort to blame Republican intransigence for the unexpected public and polling turn against ObamaCare is almost comic. In the House of Representatives, there has been no effort to “negotiate” with Republicans; the problem for the House leadership is the 50 or so Democrats now serving in districts whose voters are generally more conservative. They fear ObamaCare for the simple reason that they are representatives, they know their voters didn’t vote for socialized health care, and their hold on their districts is tenuous. In other words, they are being held back by the logic of representative government itself.

The Senate is a somewhat different story, because there, conservative-leaning Democrats who feel the need to vote against ObamaCare can be replaced by moderate- or liberal-leaning Republicans who are representing states with populaces that have been moving leftward. Even so, the fact that ObamaCare is not commanding the enthusiasm of large majorities of voters has made this a tough vote for them as well.

Hulse and Zeleny write:

The Democratic shift may not make producing a final bill much easier. The party must still reconcile the views of moderate and conservative Democrats worried about the cost and scope of the legislation with those of more liberal lawmakers determined to win a government-run insurance option to compete with private insurers.

On the other hand, such a change could alter the dynamic of talks surrounding health care legislation, and even change the substance of a final bill. With no need to negotiate with Republicans, Democrats might be better able to move more quickly, relying on their large majorities in both houses.

This was true months ago. It is no longer true, because the debate over ObamaCare has been the central point of political discussion for the past six weeks, and those past six weeks—and the ones to follow—have changed the nature of the debate. It seems obvious that Democratic leaders can muscle the legislation through, but can they really? They were unable to do so in July, and things have gotten only worse for them since.

Surely they know this. Therefore, the story is nothing more than an obvious and rather lame bluff, an effort to scare moderate Republicans in the Senate into playing ball. The question becomes what is more costly for such Republicans: voting against Obama on the grounds that health-care reform is unaffordable and possibly facing the wrath of Obama-loving voters in 2010 and 2012, or voting with Obama on an increasingly unpopular piece of legislation they don’t believe in.

There’s no obvious answer to this question. But right now, the White House scare tactic smacks of desperation, not confident enthusiasm.



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