Thursday, January 21, 2010


The Massachusetts vote, and the health insurance bill

Perhaps you’ve heard that the Democrat who ran a bad campaign to finish out the late Senator Kennedy’s term lost to the Republican who ran a better campaign. Perhaps you’ve also heard the knells telling us that this signifies the end of the world as we know it. To hear it from some, all opportunity for getting anything done in the Senate is over.

At the very least, it’s common knowledge that health-care reform is in trouble. The New York Times tells us in its headline that “Democrats Regroup on Health After Losing Seat”, and the headline that article had on the RSS feed was more dire: “Democratic Defeat Imperils Health Care Overhaul”.

So, wait, let’s take a step back and look at it again.

First, the “filibuster-proof majority” was a myth to start with. The Democrats relied on “Independent” Joe Lieberman for that, and it’s been clear for some time that he is not on their side. Far from assuring the power to push legislation through, that just enabled Senator Lieberman to muscle things around, at the expense of the Democratic Party.

Second, a filibuster-proof majority is a fragile thing that’s of questionable value. With some exceptions, if an issue is touchy enough that they have to worry about a filibuster, making sure that all the Democrats are signed up to break it requires so much waffling on the substance of the bill, so much damaging compromise and dilution that what they wind up getting through has little left. Indeed, that’s what’s happened with the health-insurance reform bill (it’s about health insurance, not health care), already making it so thin that it looks like a homeopathic remedy.

These are where attempts to be “bipartisan” go: trying to please everyone means that in the end, we please no one, really.

The effect that the seating of Scott Brown as the new junior senator from Massachusetts will have is not that anything will be derailed, not that all negotiations will break down, and not that the health insurance bill — which Senator Brown has promised to vote against — will founder, but that those with a vision of reforming health insurance may have to make some changes to get it through.

This can actually be their opportunity to make positive changes, as they recognize that they no longer need to coddle the fringe elements who recognized where the situation put them and threatened to kick sand in their faces.

They can now come back with something that will make 52% of the Senate more happy, rather than settling for one that 59% can tolerate.

And if a filibuster comes, then let it. Senator Reid can say, “OK, if you want to talk, talk. We have time. The Senate is now in session 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until we sort this out. Have at it.” And it will last until enough voters in some of the less conservative places (such as Massachusetts) put pressure on their senators to stop getting in the way and go back to getting things done.

A filibuster on this bill will delay things for a short time. But in the end, I’d rather have a better law that took a few extra weeks than some junk that’s of little long-term value,[1] but that allowed our politicians to say “Mission accomplished.”

Sadly, I have no confidence in the Senate Democrats to make this happen.

[1] That’s not to say that I think the proposed legislation is useless; it clearly has some useful points to it. It will help some people a lot, and everyone a little. It’s just that it’s had some very important points cut out of it, and the problem is that it still doesn’t accomplish what we need: health care for all Americans. Just cover everyone.

1 comment:

The Ridger, FCD said...

I agree. That 60th vote was hallucinatory - and addictive. Now that it's gone, it's possible they can do something.

I also agree that it's not enormously likely.