We Are Not At the Mercy of 60 Votes

by: Chris Bowers

Mon Aug 24, 2009 at 14:30


When it comes to passing health care reform through the Senate, Matthew Yglesias thinks that we are at the mercy of a handful of "moderate" Senate Democrats:

As I've said from the beginning of this process, the most important known unknown in health reform is nothing to do with the Obama administration's tactics and everything to do with the actual subjective premises of the handful of moderate Democrats who control the balance of power in the Senate. If Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, Mary Landrieu, etc. want to see a universal health care plan enacted there's nothing stopping them. But if they don't want to see a universal health care plan enacted, neither the left nor the White House has any particularly impressive leverage to use against them.

--Matthew Ygelsieas, August 24th

I am going to have to disagree with Matt on this one.  As a wise man wrote only 19 days ago, there is nothing that can stop Senate Democrats from passing health care reform with fifty votes if they want to:

But the flipside of that is that, as I've said before, if Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and 49 other Senators want to change the filibuster rule or deem a health plan eligible for reconciliation or whatever else they like nobody can stop them. The Senate itself is the only adjudicator of its own procedures.

--Matthew Yglesias, August 5th

The reason I am going to side with August 5th Matthew Yglesias on this one is that he was right.  The fact is that Democrats only need 50 votes, plus the Vice-President, to sustain a ruling from the Senate chair that health care reform legislation with a public option can be passed with only 51 votes. This is the case even if the Senate Parliamentarian disagrees.

The only objection to this is political, not substantive.  It can be argued that pushing health care reform with a public option through reconciliation is a bad idea politically.  However, it cannot be accurately argued that it is impossible to do so.  After all, if 50 Senate Democrats plus Vice-President Biden wanted to do so, they could actually eliminate the filibuster altogether, much less get around it only for health care reform legislation.

If they want to, Democrats can pass health care reform with a public option through the Senate with only 50 votes plus Vice-President Biden.  If reconciliation is not used, it is because Senate Democrats decided Senate process is more important than a public option, not because Senate Democrats were forced into abandoning the public option by Senate process.

(FWIW, I would like to see the 60-vote rule done away with entirely, but Senators are still able to stop legislation by actually standing up and talking ad infinitum. Just make the filibuster an actual filibuster, with real political consequences.)

Chris Bowers :: We Are Not At the Mercy of 60 Votes

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Senate and Filibuster (4.00 / 2)
We have a habit of saying the Senate is more conservative and less representative of the country then the House.  While both points may be true (certainly the latter is) we've forgotten how much the filibuster plays into this perception.

In the Senate, 60% of the members caucus with the Democrats.  In the House the number is a shade under that at almost 59%.  If the House had the filibuster and the 60% rule like the Senate, people like Christopher Shays and Michael Castle would have veto power over everything.  (Just grabbed their names from this list, close enough to make a point, even though the source isn't great.)

On the other hand, just think of what we already have passed or are set up to pass in the House if there was no Senate.


Has anyone ever asked Baucus, Nelson, Conrad, etc. (4.00 / 2)
whether or not they plan to join a filibuster of the public option? That's the key question. There's a big difference between saying "they don't want to see a public option" and saying "they're prepared to do everything in their power to prevent its passage, including blocking reforms they support."


. (4.00 / 1)
If they did push healthcare through like this, i'd prefer to see the timetable sped up so they can actually take credit for the move instead of getting beat up over something that the affect of won't be seen until 2013.

This is an excellent point (0.00 / 0)
Also, I hate to be a wet blanket, but HR 3200, which the 50 Senators + Biden would presumably be voting in, is no panacea.

Check out this article:
http://www.alternet.org/health...

It says this:

But the proposed America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200 in the House) will, rather than cut costs, add an estimated $239 billion over 10 years to the federal deficit. This is very good for the corporations. It is very bad for us.

And this:

The bills now in Congress will, at best, impose on the country the failed model in Massachusetts. That model will demand that Americans buy health insurance from private insurers. There will be some subsidies for the very poor but not for anyone above a modest income. Insurers will be allowed to continue to jack up premiums, including for the elderly. The bankruptcies due to medical bills and swelling premiums will mount along with rising deductibles and co-payments. Health care will be beyond the reach of many families. In Massachusetts one in six people who have mandated insurance still say they cannot afford care, and 30,000 people were evicted from the state program this month because of budget cuts. Expect the same debacle nationwide.

I think the legislation is bad to start with. I think it spells disaster for the Democrats after it all finally plays out.

It's a similar situation with the Waxman-Markey Climate Change bill, which passed the House by a slim margin and has yet to go to the Senate.

Both bills are bad. Let's get a do-over. I'd also like to do the Stimulus bill over - with gobs more money and let's not forget the bail-out, which should have been immediate followed with agressive oversight and then new regulation. While we're at it, fire Geithner, get rid of Summers. Do the whole thing over!


[ Parent ]
CA - Feinstein (D) Needs Work (0.00 / 0)

Listed as "Yes" on your Senate Whip Count, but go look at the source link and you'll see it's only a weaselly "Senator Feinstein supports either a public option or non-profit co-ops."

If Feinstein is one of the 45, then this is a very soft 45 commits...



Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans

What Counts (0.00 / 0)
The point of the Senate count is who will vote for the public option if it is in the bill.  This is completely different than the Progressive Block where they won't vote for the bill if the PO is missing.

So it looks like Feinstein is committed to voting for the PO if it is in the bill, so she counts.


[ Parent ]
"Soft..." (0.00 / 0)
...and "weaselly." Didn't say she was a 'no,' but when push comes to shove I'm not convinced she's a reliable 'yes.'

She's a prime candidate for the co-op dodge and her spokesperson specifically added/included co-ops in a way that conflates them with a public option. It was not a straight, unambiguous statement of support for a public option.  

Self-refuting Christine O'Donnell is proof monkeys are still evolving into humans


[ Parent ]
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