President prepares to play the reconciliation card on health care

Now that the voters see the Republicans as intransigent, Obama is going to use reconciliation to pass a purely Democratic bill with only Democratic votes.

When my progressive friends ask, “What have we gotten out of Obama’s ‘post-partisan’ shtick?” my answer has been, “You’re using the wrong tense.  The question is, what will we get?” 

My theory has been that Obama was going to make himself look completely reasonable, giving Republicans the choice of giving him a win by compromising or making themselves look unreasonable by not compromising – and thereby giving Obama justification for playing rough procedurally and passing a purely Democratic bill will only Democratic votes.

On health care, the Republicans have decided to stand pat.  And the polls show that the public has seen that; Obama is perceived as having tried to compromise, and the Republicans as not having tried to compromise.

CNN poll: 

“In reacting to President Obama’s health care proposals, do you think the Republicans aer generally offering constructive criticism, or are they being obstructionist for mostly political reasons?

Constructive 31%

Obstructionist 61%

A narrower majority believes that “Obama and the Democrats” are trying to compromise; I suspect that the numbers would be better if the question were asked about Obama alone.

On cue, The Hill reports:

President Barack Obama this week has been laying the foundation for Senate Democrats to use a controversial budget maneuver to pass healthcare reform.

By offering Republicans olive branches during his address to Congress on Wednesday, Obama has set up a win-win situation. If GOP lawmakers embrace compromise, a healthcare bill would pass Congress easily. But the more likely scenario is that Republicans will continue to oppose Obama’s plan, and the president later this fall will be able to note he tried to strike a deal with the GOP but could not.

That will set up a Democratic argument that Senate leaders have been forced to use a partisan budget tool known as reconciliation to pass a health bill through the Senate by a simple majority, instead of 60 votes. Under the budget plan they passed earlier this year, Democrats could invoke the reconciliation process on Oct. 15.

Republicans contend that the use of reconciliation would be at odds with Obama’s call for bipartisanship during his 2008 presidential campaign. But Obama has countered that argument in recent days by forcefully resurrecting the anti-Washington rhetoric that got him elected.

In Cincinnati on Monday, Obama blamed the “usual bickering in Washington” for the “funk” supporters of healthcare reform were enduring. And in a discussion with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday, Obama said “there are a lot of politicians like that who, all they’re thinking about is just, ‘How do I get reelected?’ and so they never actually get anything done.”

Then on Wednesday night, Obama sought to portray his health reform plan as one that contains both Republican and Democratic ideas.

“The time for bickering is over. The time for games has passed,” Obama said. “Now is the season for action.”

The GOP, by joining hands with the teabag crowd, has dug itself in so deep that compromise is almost impossible.  In retrospect, I think this will look like one of the all-time great mouse-traps.

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:

7 thoughts on “President prepares to play the reconciliation card on health care”

  1. Yeah, but….

    If health insurance reform goes the reconciliation route passage still requires 51 votes. Right now, there are, what, 57 Democratic senators and two independents who caucus with them. That means you could lose as many as eight votes and still succeed. Unfortunately, 15-20 of the Democrats in the Senate form a moderate bloc modeled after the House's Blue Dog coalition, which in turn means roughly half of the moderates need to be on board. Given this, passage of a robust bill is anything but assured.

    It appears to me that the Republicans, operating from a position of weakness, have succeeded in limiting the scope of the reform with a major assist from the Democrats.

  2. What makes you think its Obama who decides to use reconciliation? Isn't it the Congress itself who decides? Furthermore, those who stand to lose with the use of reconciliation is not the Republicans, but those Democratic senators who aren't so gung-ho. So, you think that its a bright strategy to turn the guns on your own side? I don't think so.

  3. horseball, yes it is, for discipline if nothing else. The Gang of Six loses power under reconciliation. The game that they've been playing is that they control votes (roughly) 54-60, and therefore are a blocking point. If Obama can push it through without reconciliation (and especially if he pushes through some changes that the Gang doesn't like. They'll learn that opposition is not free. Right now, it is free, and probably highly profitable. The GOP will learn that Obama is offering both a carrot and a stick.

    The big question is, as jm points out, can Obama cough up 50 votes in the Senate? (Biden would break the tie by casting the 51st). If not, the Obama administation is in serious trouble; he can't get major campaign legislation through the Senate, even with major concessions and public support. At that point, the Senate GOP + Gang O' Six has successfully punked him, and they ain't gonna stop there.

  4. Mark Kleiman: "When my progressive friends ask, “What have we gotten out of Obama’s ‘post-partisan’ shtick?” my answer has been, “You’re using the wrong tense. The question is, what will we get?” "

    You're right, Mark, that is the question. If Obama can deliver on this (and by 'deliver', I don't mean 'deliver a healthcare deform bill which pumps money into insurance companies, while making the current system even worse'), then I for one will pipe down a bit. If not, then ….

  5. Sorry, 'If Obama can push it through without reconciliation …' should read ' If Obama can push it through with reconciliation …'

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