Are Senate Republicans planning to essentially move towards a “scorched earth” policy if the Democrats try to shove through health care reform using the “reconciliation” process by which only 51 votes would be needed to pass it?
The Politico has this tantilizing item which will make many political junkies drool — and many independent voters cringe and shake their heads at the thought that the bar will be lowered AGAIN in political “debate”:
EXCLUSIVE: Senate Republicans tell us they plan a ferocious response if Democrats proceed with their plan to try to pass comprehensive health reform with simple-majority votes following Thursday’s White House summit. A top aide tells us GOP senators may offer DOZENS and perhaps HUNDREDS of amendments, some forcing Dems to vote on subjects such as Gitmo and terror trials: “While debate time is limited, the number and content of amendments are not. This approach to moving health care has a lot of problems, but one Democrats haven’t yet focused on is the number of bad votes they’d have to take to get there. Amendments don’t have to be germane (well, they do, and if they’re not, Dems can move to set them aside, but we can move to waive that; either way, there’s a vote).”
A good idea? The GOP might think twice. To wit:
1. Reconciliation has been used before — by Republican Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as well as Democratic Presidents. But you’d be hard pressed to point to the party on the losing end deciding to essentially use every legislative manuever in the books to try and stall the work of Congress and/or create set-up votes to discredit the other party. Once upon a time, political parties didn’t always reach for a political atomic bomb if they didn’t get their way. But now gamesmanship trumps policy.
2. Right now polls show many Americans have the attitude of “a pox on both your houses” but if one party takes center stage as the party that’s trying to grind government and deliberations (a vote one way or another) to a halt, that party may find a bigger pox on their house, delivered by voters via vote margins on election day.
3. The GOP right now is benefitting because the Democrats appear hapless, politically craven (the lets-make-a-deal aspect of health care reform), and at war with each other (so let me get this straight: if I understand progressives correctly, in Nov. 2008 Americans voted in Barack Obama because they wanted a public option? Wasn’t there a teeney weenie thing called “the economy” that many Americans sort of hoped that Obama and the Democratic majority would focus like a laser on to fix?). If the GOP leadership in effect decides to (again) wed itself to the talk radio political culture way of doing things (always confront, and escalate the rhetoric, and whip up polarizing partisan political passions and rage since compromise and/or consensus are for wimps) they could overreach just as the Democrats are now paying a price for overreaching (or failing to grab what they were trying to reach).
4. A phrase to the GOP: Remember the 1995 federal government shut down and Newt Gingrich? GOPers implimenting a scorched earth policy in the Senate could find that many non Tea Party members or non Sean Hannity fans will conclude that the Republicans are so bent on obstruction that it might be better to hold their noses and vote for the Democrats again. Even so, there are likely to be huge Democratic losses in 2010 — but if the GOP turns off independent voters it could make the difference between gains and gaining control of the House or Senate.
FOOTNOTE: There is one assumption in this post and The Politico item: that the Democrats will indeed use reconcilation. If faced with the prospect that this is the only way of ramming health care through will they do it? Or will they consider it use of a process that could cause unwanted backlash that they aren’t willing to face? (Make your bets in Vegas now…)
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.