Commentary Magazine


Breaking the Cynicism Meter

Republicans have long suspected that the Obama health-care summit is a setup. After all, the first ground rule seems to be: “I get ObamaCare.” But sometimes even the Democrats outdo themselves in the cynicism department. Roll Call reports:

Senate Democrats say they see no need to abandon the idea of using reconciliation to pass health care reform this year just because President Barack Obama has scheduled a bipartisan summit next week to try to break the impasse on Capitol Hill. . .Given the unified GOP opposition to their health care effort, Senate Democrats argued just before departing for the Presidents Day recess that Obama’s summit is no reason to shelve reconciliation as a potential strategy. The tactic would allow Democrats pass certain aspects of health care reform with just 51 votes.

“I think it should be constantly pursued,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Thursday when asked whether Democrats should take a break from drafting a reconciliation bill until after Obama’s summit.

“I think the Republicans are pretty committed to the notion that obstructing everything that President Obama would like to accomplish is very key to their base and their political success,” Whitehouse added. “I don’t see them departing from that strategy.”

Nevertheless, there is reason to believe they lack the votes to utilize reconciliation. (“Some moderate Senate Democrats have already announced their opposition to a reconciliation bill regardless of what is in it.”) And that is before we get to the merits. It isn’t at all clear that, post-Scott Brown, there are votes for what’s in ObamaCare (e.g., massive tax hikes, $500 billion in cuts to Medicare with no real reform element, forcing people to buy health-care plans they don’t want from Big Insurance). Wouldn’t Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln (and maybe others as well) jump at the chance to return to the good graces of voters whom they have enraged?

Then on the House side, we hear that Nancy Pelosi may be 100 votes short of a majority to pass ObamaCare. As Michael Barone explains:

So you, as a Democratic member with potentially serious opposition, do the political caucus. If you vote for the Senate bill, you’re voting for something that has 35% support nationwide and probably a little less than that in your district. You will have voted for the Cornhusker Hustle and the Louisiana Purchase. Your Republican opponent will ask why you voted for something that gave taxpayers in Nebraska and Louisiana better treatment than the people you represent (there are no Democratic House members running for reelection in those two states: Nebraska has only Republican House members and the single Louisiana House Democrat is running for the Senate). The only protection you have against this is the assurance that the Senate parliamentarian and scared incumbent senators will come through for you, and that Harry Reid will pursue a steady course.

So your response to the leadership is either, I gotta think about this, or, Hell no. The House Democratic leadership’s problem is that it cannot credibly promise that the Senate will keep its part of the bargain.

So the bottom line: it is hard to believe Obama is operating in good faith. But that’s OK with conservatives, independents, and the two-thirds of us who don’t want a government takeover of health care. Obama still doesn’t have the votes, and those lawmakers who see their careers passing before their eyes probably don’t even want a vote on it. Obama has done enough damage to their re-election prospects already.