The latest example of Republicans’ last-minute mania to kill health care reform is a version of divide and conquer — but they are playing it so ineptly that it’s more amusing than alarming:
The White House may renege on passing fixes to the Senate’s healthcare bill once the House has passed it, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) claimed Thursday.
Gregg, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, suggested that President Barack Obama may back off making changes to the Senate bill through the reconciliation process, which the White House and the Senate have said they would use to make changes to the Senate bill in order to placate House members.
“They’re using reconciliation to pass the great big bill,” Gregg said during an appearance on CNBC. “Once they pass the great big bill, I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House didn’t care if reconciliation passed. I mean, why would they?”
Jonathan Chait calls it “More Utterly Sincere Advice for Democrats from the GOP“:
This isn’t just obviously disingenuous, it’s silly. The Democratic plan is to have the House pass the Senate bill, and then use a follow-up reconciliation bill to enact changes demanded by House Democrats. Now, it’s true that the Obama administration achieves its policy goals once the House passes the Senate bill, and doesn’t need a follow-up reconciliation bill except insofar as it’s necessary to guarantee House passage. But the reconciliation bill is going to consist of a lot of popular provisions that Democrats will be eager to vote for — canceling the Cornhusker Kickback, boosting middle-class tax credits, delaying the excise tax and instead raising taxes on the rich.
Moreover, the House is only going to pass the Senate bill first if it gets ironclad assurance on the reconciliation bill from the administration and the Senate. Why would Obama and the Senate nakedly double cross the House? It would mean never being able to pass a piece of legislation again. The reputations of the double-crossers would be destroyed, both inside Washington and, to a lesser extent, nationally. No remotely rational politician, no matter how evil, would do something like that.
Can’t Republicans just make substantive arguments that they believe, instead of concocting fantastical scenarios that they think will appeal to House Democrats?
Obviously not — and that, plus the series of beautifully wrapped and beribboned gifts that Republicans in Congress have been handing out to the Democrats has, in Marc Ambinder’s words, turned the “perfect storm [that] nearly killed health reform” turned into its salvation:
In reverse chronological order: the president stepped up to the plate and provided Democrats with something they’ve been wanting for a year: a plan of action and an endorsement of the often-used but suddenly controversial reconciliation procedure to pass the Senate’s bill with a majority vote. Yesterday’s presidential speech was the culmination of a month’s worth of pre-decisional communication.
Then — Jim Bunning’s decision to put a face on Republican obstructionism in the Senate. It’s true that the GOP had a nice opportunity to challenge the president during his health care forum at Blair House, and quite a few GOPers distinguished themselves by coming prepared to talk — at least talk — substance. Bunning’s gesture of ill will erased any credibility the GOP Senate had.
Before that came the vote on a congressional deficit-cutting commission, which many GOPers had supported when it was a Republican idea…and suddenly opposed when it was a Democratic idea, including several who switched their votes for no reason other than that they were more politically vulnerable. Sen. Evan Bayh might have reconsidered his decision to retire if the Senate managed to pass the commission. He didn’t, and suddenly, the country had a front-page example of a Democrat who could not bear both the liberals in his party and the obstructionist Republican colleagues.
Before that came the White House’s decision to unleash the president’s brain, and urge it be televised, as he did at the House Republican retreat in Maryland. It was a slam dunk performance, weapons of mass destructions were found, and the liberal base became … enthusiastic. …
Mixed into all of this (perhaps the largest single current) was the decision by some insurers to significantly raise their premiums on people with coverage — that is — on people who in theory are happy with the system and don’t have any stake in reform. Obama has had trouble reaching these Americans, and the insurance industry gave him a gift. …
More good news came today with Sen. Robert Byrd’s public statement of support for reconciliation to pass the package of fixes to the Senate bill:
In a noteworthy boost for Democrats, Byrd wrote a letter to the editor in Thursday’s Charleston Daily Mail that it is appropriate to use reconciliation on measures that reduce the deficit — a standard that the package of fixes to the Senate health care bill could meet.
Byrd appeared to be responding to Republicans — and the paper’s editorial board — who have repeatedly cited his Washington Post op-ed from March 2009, in which he said using reconciliation to pass health care reform or climate change legislation was an “outrage that must be resisted.”
“I believed then, as now, that the Senate should debate the health reform bill under regular rules, which it did. The result of that debate was the passing of a comprehensive health care reform bill in the Senate by a 60-vote supermajority.
“I continue to support the budget reconciliation process for deficit reduction. The entire Senate- or House- passed health care bill could not and would not pass muster under the current reconciliation rules, which were established under my watch.
“Yet a bill structured to reduce deficits by, for example, finding savings in Medicare or lowering health care costs, may be consistent with the Budget Act, and appropriately considered under reconciliation.”