Senate Progressives Huddle on Health CareNovember 16, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
The Senate’s long-awaited health care bill and the Congressional Budget Office’s budget scoring of it are expected to finally be made public today — or if not today, tomorrow at the latest. On Monday night Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) thought it was necessary to get together one last time with Senate progressives to discuss elements of the bill before it was made public. Congress Daily:
Progressive senators met with Senate Majority Leader Reid Monday evening to discuss how to pass a healthcare overhaul bill with a public insurance option, even as three Democrats are holding out against one.
“There are a couple of members on our side that need some convincing, and we’ll keep working on it,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who asked for the meeting along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and about a dozen liberal senators.
Brown was confident they would get 60 votes for Reid’s public option proposal that would allow states to opt out.
“People who oppose the public option, an overwhelming number of Republicans … and a couple or three Democrats, will have their chances on the floor to do amendments, but I’m confident,” he said. “I don’t think anybody here in our Caucus wants to be on the wrong side of history.”
It’s not really that clear what this was all about. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). who was at the meeting, says it was about “getting everybody singing on the same page,” whatever that means. By all reports, they didn’t discuss the possibility of using the budget reconciliation process. They talked mostly about the role of the public option in finding 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster, the reports seem to indicate.
I wonder about Brown’s prediction that a health care bill with a public option can pass the Senate — which is more conservative than the House in many respects — because no Democrats are going to want to “be on the wrong side of history.” One of the major differences between the dynamics at play in the two chambers of Congress is that Senate votes are influenced by a much longer time line for political repercussions. Members of the House aren’t generally looking at the implications of their votes in a historical context — they’re looking just a few months down the road as the re-election campaign they’re perpetually preparing for. But in the Senate where re-election happens only every six years, it’s more about legacy. The effects of bills passed by Congress are more often actually felt by the time people go to vote for their senators.
Of the three main Democratic senators that are voicing opposition to the public option — Nelson, Lieberman and Licoln — only Lincoln is facing re-election in 2010. The other two aren’t up until 2012, when more of the bill’s popular provisions will have had more time to take effect. In 2010, the Republicans’ campaigns will be largely built off opposition to the Democrats’ health care bill. But in 2012, Democrats that voted for the bill will be able to campaign on having had already implemented popular consumer protections like coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions and a ban on coverage caps, with full implementation of health care reform and universal coverage just around the corner.
UPDATE: Some more on the meeting from TPM’s Brian Beutler:
The urgency of last night’s meeting between Senate progressives and Majority Leader Harry Reid surrounded the fact that, though the overwhelming majority of Democrats want a public option, and several think they’ve already compromised enough on that score, the votes still aren’t there. So, with key votes just around the corner, how can those moderate hold-outs be swayed, and what happens if they can’t be? One possibility is simply leaving the ball in the moderates’ court.
“There’s potentially a dynamic that works in all of this that as you get closer and closer to the vote, you say—you really do say—we’re going to make or we’re not going to make history, and it takes on another dimension, psychologically,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) told reporters. “I mean I’ve been through that myself. I’ve gone downstairs thinking maybe I’m not going to vote for that, and then suddenly I see its dimension, think of it in large terms, and then vote for it.”