Senate Has Votes For Pubic Option in Reconciliation, Will Obama Stop Them?

Ryan Grim pens an article in today’s HuffPo that will excite anyone still holding out hope for comprehensive health care reform. In it Grim reports of the growing movement to adopt the Senate bill with the public option or expanded medicare added, and then pass it in the reconciliation process. According to Grim’s sources there are now 51 yes votes in the Senate. One more than the 50 needed.

So what could upset the process? As Grim explains, an unelected parliamentarian:

“Because of the rules surrounding budget reconciliation, the process that would allow health care reform to move through with 51 votes, any Senator may bring up an amendment to the package. An opponent of the amendment will then likely make a point of order and argue that the amendment violates the “Byrd Rule”** and is out of order. If the parliamentarian sustains the point of order, the amendment would need 60 votes to pass. But if he deems that it complies with the rules of reconciliation — that it has a substantial effect on the budget and is germane to the legislation — then the amendment passes with a majority vote.”

Imagine the most important legislation of a generation being axed by an unelected Senate referee. The Dem base will be livid. Anger, when properly appealed to, produces voter turn out.  The calls for killing the filibuster will grow louder and have more weight, setting up a potent campaign argument for keeping a dem majority to “kill fill” on the opening day of the next session.*

The best case is getting comprehensive health care reform passed, be even in defeat, This is a no lose situation for the dems strategically. Hopefully they will have the brains and the guts to push this to a conclusion.

But all of this could be made moot by one man, President Barack Obama. On the 25th of February, Obama will meet with repubs in a televised health care summit. Obama potentially could make it very dangerous for dems to go this very partisan route. Obama has been an advocate of bi-partisanship to a fault. A huge fault. And this summit is supposed to be all about bi-partisan solutions.

Will Obama, heavily criticized by the left for not putting himself into selling health reform, now kill meaningful reform on the altar of bipartisanship just as he finally does put himself in the center of the debate?  How horribly ironic would that be ?

*”…the “constitutional” or “nuclear” option revolves on the argument that, on the first day of a new Congress, Senate rules, including Rule XXII,
the cloture rule, do not yet apply, and thus can be changed by majority vote
. Under this argument, debate could be stopped by majority vote as well. A Senator would
move the adoption of a new rule or set of rules. The new rule or rules would be
subject to a majority vote, supporters argue, because the mechanics of cloture as set
out in Rule XXII, which requires a supermajority to invoke cloture and end debate,
would not yet apply and the Senate would be operating under general parliamentary
law. One variation would be a claim that on the opening day of a Congress a simple
majority could invoke cloture on the motion to take up a resolution that proposed a
rules change, or on the resolution itself. Again, this scenario would rest on the
proposition that Rule XXII was not yet in force and did not control action. Senators
also could seek to have the 60-vote threshold declared unconstitutional, either for
cloture in general, or only as it applies to Senate consideration of presidential
nominations, or perhaps a subset of such nominations, such as of federal judges.
This scenario might take place in at least two different ways. The presiding officer
might make a ruling from the chair, or a Senator could make a point of order from
the floor that the supermajority requirement for cloture is unconstitutional.”

From Congressional Research Service report for congress Changing  Senate Rules: Entire report here. Highly recommended, but wonkish.

** “Byrd Rule” link added by me, link not in the original.

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