Today the Senate is expected to hold a key health care reform vote. And if President Barack Obama has a bundle of political clout riding on this vote, so does Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Reid, in an increasingly tough (some pundits suggest seemingly fruitless) battle for re-election who was never a darling of the Democratic party’s liberal wing, could be in a weakened position unless when the votes are counted it turns out that he had gathered the needed 60 votes on a cloture vote. Eyes will be on him and Democratic centrists and — as always — on Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Demmies. But the question is going to be: did Reid do his homework or will the day end with him and Obama looking further weakened? One key Republican sounds as if he is betting that Reid has lined up the votes:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will get exactly the 60 votes he needs to pass healthcare reform legislation through its first test [today], Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said Friday.
Reid on Thursday scheduled a cloture vote on a motion to proceed yesterday. The vote is the first crucial test the healthcare bill will face in the Senate.
“My guess, that’s all it is, is that it would be exactly 60 to exactly 40 but we’ll see,” Vitter said on MSNBC this morning. “I think he probably does [have enough votes] for this first pivotal vote.”
Reid has refused to predict whether or not he will get the necessary votes to pass the measure. “We’ll find out when the votes are taken,” he said when asked on Thursday about his chances of success.
Vitter is a staunch opponent of the bill.
But the Hill also notes this:
Two others Democrats potentially could be absent from the vote on Saturday night. Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus is currently in Montana tending to his ailing mother. Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) has experienced health problems all year.
The Politico also thinks that — from Reid and Obama’s point of view — it is looking good:
Two Saturdays ago, Pelosi passed health reform on a squeaker of a House vote. Today, Reid can’t spare a single Democrat as the Senate decides whether to start debate. If not, President Barack Obama’s reform hopes suffer immeasurable harm.
That said, things were looking good at daybreak, as Reid can be reasonably confident of 59 votes, with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) a yes vote and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) leaning yes. The holdout: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who has been a fan of reform generally but faces a tough 2010 re-election fight.
In theory, Reid’s job should actually be easier than Pelosi’s. The House voted on final passage. Reid is just asking the Senate to begin debate. But the vote is more than that – it’s a test lab for the ideas, arguments and battle tactics that both sides will carry into an epic showdown over health reform next month.
The debate runs all day with the vote scheduled for 8 p.m.
So is it a slam dunk? Hardly:
Democratic leaders are optimistic of success, but they need every Democrat and both independents to vote “yes,” and two moderates remained uncommitted ahead of the roll call, which is expected around 8 p.m. EST. The vote will determine whether debate can go forward on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 2,074-page bill to dramatically remake the U.S. health care system over the next decade.
…..The two Democratic holdouts are Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. A third centrist, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, announced Friday that he’d be supporting his party on the test vote, while cautioning that it didn’t mean he’d be with them on the final vote.
“It is not for or against the new Senate health care bill,” Nelson said. “It is only to begin debate and an opportunity to make improvements. If you don’t like a bill, why block your own opportunity to amend it?”
Little will illustrate the absurdity of the filibuster as neatly as tomorrow’s vote. This is not the vote to pass the bill. It’s the vote to begin considering the bill. Changing the bill. Amending the bill. Recall that the purpose of the filibuster is to protect debate and ensure that members can make their opinions heard and ensure they have an opportunity to add their ideas to the legislation. Tomorrow, however, 40 Republicans are expected to use the filibuster to close off debate and ensure that no more opinions are heard nor changes considered. The right to unlimited debate has become a tool for cutting it off.
ABC NEWS points to these five questions that will determine the ultimate fate of this bill.
The Washington Post’s editorial page editor Fred Hiatt argues that passing health care reform is not only vital to health care but to the overall success of the Obama administration — including how it is perceived by other countries abroad. Some excerpts:
Is American democracy in paralysis? That question emerged at a conference of big thinkers and experts in various fields organized last week by Foreign Policy magazine, our sister publication.
To an extent, the question reflects an America-in-decline-ism that becomes fashionable from time to time, especially when the U.S. economy is dragging. The United States always has turned out to be more resilient than the pessimists expect, while the supposed advantages of less democratic rivals (the Soviet Union in the 1960s, Japan in the 1980s) have been trumped by the rigidities of one-party rule. This decade’s juggernaut — communist China — also faces challenges that may become more evident with time.
Yet as health-care reform sputters and lurches toward an uncertain finish line, the question is understandable. Foreigners see a Democratic Party that supposedly is alarmed by climate change, that decisively captured the White House and both houses of Congress a year ago — and yet that will send an administration to a crucial conference in Copenhagen next month with little but hopes and promises. Now there is talk that cap-and-trade legislation will wait until not just next year but the next Congress.
He rattles off other problem areas: Obama has been unable to fill most judicial posts and has not even submitted names for many of them; labor law reform is on hold; immigration reform is in limbo; and Afghanistan policy awaits an official…policy:
Meanwhile, American power seems powerless to bend events in Iran, North Korea, the Middle East, Sudan, Congo or even tiny Honduras to our south.
Underlying all is the nation’s growing debt — to other countries and to future generations. The retirement system (Social Security) and health insurance for the elderly (Medicare) are headed for bankruptcy, with state and local pension funds and the federal pension insurance fund not far behind. Pretty much everyone understands that the government must spend less and tax more, but the system seems incapable of taking a first step in either direction.
And didn’t candidate Obama promise to fix the college football Bowl Championship Series?
He goes through a bunch of institutional, political and 21st century media reasons that might partially explain all of the above, then argues:
Whichever explanation appeals to you — and no doubt they all contain some truth — the perception of paralysis increases the urgency of passing health-care reform. Failure would damage the Obama presidency, and it would also deepen the fear, here and abroad, that America is stuck.
Paradoxically, though, it also increases the urgency of doing health-care reform right. If Congress and the administration manage only to extend expensive new benefits, without improving the health-care system or controlling rising costs, it will be an achievement — but not one that will long reassure anyone concerned about the U.S. ability to get things done.
Which means a lot of people are watching to see if Harry Reid did his homework. If he hasn’t then he and Obama could face political detention..
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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.