White smoke?

It looks like there are now sixty votes in the Senate to pass the healthcare bill: all of them Democrats. Now can we end the filibuster?

Don’t look now, but it seems Harry Reid has his 60 votes.   I wouldn’t be stunned if Joe Lieberman defected again when the bill comes back from conference, but right now the bill is set to pass on Christmas Eve.  The Republicans will vote in lock-step against even letting the bill come up for a vote, and in the meantime will continue their temper tantrum, using every procedural trick to further delay the vote.

To my eyes, a national non-profit plan negotiated with the Office of Personnel Management looks just as good as a public option.  The abortion deal is a kludge, but apparently not a terrible kludge.

I think Obama was right to find out whether the Republicans wanted to act as an opposition; as it turned out, they want to act as an obstruction instead.  There’s no need now to repeat the experiment.

Megan McArdle is right that this is the first time such a major bill has passed on a strict party-line vote. (Glenn Reynolds is wrong to expect – or is it hope? – that the result will be extra-legal resistance.)  That sets up the 2010 and 2012 elections as referenda on health care.   I expect that Ralph Nader will continue to help the reactionaries, as he always does; I hope that Howard Dean will think better of it.

And now that we’ve had experience with what it means to give Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman veto power, it’s time to start talking seriously about taking down Senate Rule XXII, which allows the filibuster.  A determined opposition should be allowed to delay, but in the end a determined majority should be able to work its will.  Since the Rule XXII requires sixty-seven votes to change Rule XXII, the only way to fix the problem is for the Vice-President to rule, at the beginning of a Congress, that the Senate is not a “continuing body,” and that in each Congress the Senate, like the House, must pass its rules afresh.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

16 thoughts on “White smoke?”

  1. "The Republicans will vote in lock-step against even letting the bill come up for a vote, and " the Democrats will vote in lock-step for passing it, even without knowing what's in it. I have a bit more respect for the former behavior; It seems somehow appropriate that "First do no harm!" should be the rule when voting on health care.

    I'm sickened by the whole spectacle of bills reconfiguring huge parts of the economy being voted on while their text is still a secret. The bigger a deal a bill is, the MORE transparency there should be, not less. For something THIS big, the exact text to be voted on should be publicly available for weeks before the vote is held.

  2. I am interested in the fallout if Lieberman does filibuster the conference report. The manic-progressive wing of the blogosphere will then be in a position where Public Enemy #1 saves us from The Worst Bill Ever.

    I would not want to have to figure out the correct line under those circumtances.

  3. Not the only way. The Vice-President can sustain an objection to the Constitutionality of a rule that substitutes a super-majority requirement for the Constitutionally-prescribed vote requirement, and as long as a majority sustains the President of the Senate, precedent is set, and the rule, or the set of procedures in which it is embedded, is changed.

  4. If 2010 and 2012 are referenda on health care the Democrats will get creamed so badly it isn't funny. Most of the bill doesn't fully take effect until 2014 and almost none by 2010. Every single health care horror story is now laid at the Democrat's feet. And since the bill doesn't really do much to change the experience of most people I'm not sure why everyone is expecting there to be hossanahs showered upon the Democrats for this.

  5. I'm not sure this bill is good or bad for the Democratic Party. On the one hand it doesn't seem to change much for people who vote. On the other, it spends money on people who don't usually vote. It also seems that they have alienated the left side of the party in an attempt to keep the right side. Whether they have kept the right side I don't know, but I certainly know I'm leaving from the left side. In my ten years of voting all I have heard is 'we will get to you when we can' followed by a bow to the right because the right side will cease their support for the party if they aren't heard. That tells me the only way to get what I want is to do the same, I think I'll do that now.

    Note I am referring to the right side of the Democratic Party not the country.

  6. I don't know why Rob thinks none of the bill takes effect in 2010. Here's what the White House said a few days ago about what goes into effect more or less immediately: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/16/health-…. And since then Harry Reid's amendments, especially in terms of the immediate banning of annual payment caps, have made more good stuff kick in immediately.

    I think many of the people who couldn't get health insurance before now because of pre-existing conditions, who will be able to get insurance, and hence treatment, for the first time next year will be grateful to Democrats when they get to the ballot box. Since those people will be covered explicitly through the high risk pool, it should be clear that it is the Obama health care bill that's making the difference. I reckon that for more than a few of these people, being able to get health insurance/treatment is a vote changing issue, so even if less than 50% of voters approve of the legislation, the people who change their vote on the issue will on the whole change to Democratic.

  7. Is there a constituency within the Senate for reforming the filibuster? It seems like one of those things that everyone hates to have used against themselves, but wants to preserve the option of using against someone else.

  8. I've been reading Richard Reeves' John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand, and came across this:

    "I know that it is thought essential to a man who has any knowledge of the world to have an extremely bad opinion of it, and that whenever there are two ways of explaining any fact, wise and practical people always take that way which attributes most folly or most immorality to the mass of mankind….

    …not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large clan of persons as a sage, and wisdom is supposed to consist not in seeing further than other people, but in not seeing so far."

    Everything old is new again

  9. "(Glenn Reynolds is wrong to expect – or is it hope? – that the result will be extra-legal resistance.) "

    How is this different from all the years that the right-wing thugs spent calling opponents of Cheney America-haters?

  10. Allen, it was a budget bill, and thus not subject to fillibuster, IIRC. Which was the only reason that it passed at all; the GOP in 1993 was doing the exact same strategy as now, and for remarkably similar reasons (that is, when you are in a poor position, trashing everything is a reasonable tactic).

  11. Mark: "And now that we’ve had experience with what it means to give Mary Landrieu and Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman veto power, it’s time to start talking seriously about taking down Senate Rule XXII, which allows the filibuster. "

    As has been pointed out many times, that's a tough thing to do. The other thing that the Obama administration should do is to recognize that they've got somewhere just over 50 Democratic votes,

    with several more slightly more Democratic than GOP votes, and 1 prime A-hole (and I mean prime A-hole using the average Senator as baseline normal). F*cking the left wing of the Democratic Party in hopes of picking up Republican votes didn't work; IMHO this bill is *at best* a salvage job from an otherwise failed effort.

    And the above is under the assumption that L-maggot and a couple of 'centrists' won't fillibuster the conference bill come January. L-maggot, at least, would luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuv to continue this drama through the start of the election season.

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