The Democrats hold the high cards on health care, because they have procedural control.

About a year ago, with Obama slipping in the polls and a bunch of Chicken Littles running around clucking about what he needed to do to get the campaign “back on track,” someone posted a picture of Obama with the caption, “Everybody chill the @#!% out! I got this!” (Photo at the jump.)

That’s the way I’ve been feeling about health insurance reform. A party that holds the Presidency and effective majorities in both Houses has enormous procedural advantages. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that Reid and Obama are going to be willing to use those advantages at the right moment.

They can pass a bill with 50 votes in the Senate using reconciliation, though there are limits to what can be done through that process. But they can pass a bill through reconciliation that so damages some of the key interest groups beloved of Republicans as to change the bargaining situation when it comes to finding a bill that will get 60 votes for cloture. They can impose party discipline to force wavering Democratic senators to vote for cloture. And they can undo some of the damage done as the bill passes through the two Houses by stacking the conference committee with solid Democrats. If it’s necessary to sacrifice end-of-life counselling or the public option to get a bill through the Senate, so what? . All that can be put back in conference.

Once there’s a bill, rather than a cacophony, Obama can use his persuasive powers and the OFA organization to mobilize around it, and (I think) largely reverse the public opinion hit that has resulted from all the crazy talk.

I think the strategy so far has been mostly rope-a-dope: making it obvious to everyone that there’s no good-faith attempt on the Republican side to forge a compromise..

From the beginning, the notion that Baucus, Grassley, and Boehner were going to outsmart Obama, Axelrod, and Waxman never made any sense to me. As Damon Runyon once said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But that’s the way to bet.”

My money’s on Team Obama.


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: