Is ObamaCare Dead?
by Matt Patterson
Is health care reform, President Barack Obama's signature initiative, effectively dead in the wake of Republican Scott Brown's stunning upset in the Massachusetts special election?
After all, Brown will now be the 41st Republican vote in the Senate, giving the GOP the numbers needed to filibuster major legislation, including health care. And Brown, until a month ago a little-known Massachusetts state senator, campaigned on the promise that he would oppose the Democrats' health care agenda. Speaking on election night, he reminded his jubilant supporters: "People do not want this trillion dollar health care plan that is being forced on the American people …it's not in the interest of our state, and our country, and we can do better!"1
However, if the voters were sending a message to Washington by electing Scott Brown, it doesn't seem as though the message was received. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who successfully ushered her version of ObamaCare through the House on November 7,2 put to rest the notion that she was abandoning health care, assuring the U.S. Conference of Mayors, "we will move forward."3
The White House seemed similarly intractable. Obama chief advisor David Axlerod told Politico, "I think that it would a terrible mistake to walk away now. If we don't pass the bill, all we have is the stigma of a caricature that was put on it. That would be the worst result for everybody who has supported this bill."4 (Typically tin-eared of the White House to assume that the wishes of those who support the bill outweigh the wishes of the vast majority of Americans who oppose it – 56 percent, in fact, according to a Rasmussen poll.5)
Assuming the Democrats do move forward with health care, what are their options, and how realistic are they? They could abandon their efforts to merge the House and Senate bills by pushing the Senate bill to vote in the House in toto. If Pelosi can muster the votes for this option, the bill would then go straight to the President's desk,6 by-passing Brown and his promised obstructionism.
But the House bill passed in November with a razor slim margin of 220-215,7 and that was before shady bargains in the Senate like the Cornhusker Kickback (whereby Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska secured an exemption for his state from expanded Medicaid costs; a widely derided deal Nelson has since renounced8) and the brazen agreement to exempt unions from a tax on high-end insurance premiums,9 caused voter anger to boil over into the election of a Republican to a Senate seat held by a Kennedy (or a Kennedy place-holder) since 1953.10
In addition, the Senate bill contains many provisions – the tax on 'Cadillac' insurance pans, the absence of the public option – that are anathema to many in Pelosi's caucus. "The Senate bill clearly is better than nothing," notes House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD),11 in a feeble attempt to rally his troops. But at least one key Democrat, Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, disagrees, saying that the Senate bill's anti-abortion provisions are insufficiently stringent for himself and allied pro-life Democrats, and that he cannot support the bill as written.12
All of this adds up to the near impossibility of the House swallowing the Senate bill, a fact which Pelosi acknowledged when she admitted to reporters, "In its present form without any changes I don't think it's possible to pass the Senate bill in the House. I don't see the votes for it at this time."13
Other options, such as delaying or refusing to seat Brown until after a final health care vote, or passing some aspects of the bill in a budgetary process only requiring 51 votes in the Senate,14 would make Congress seem intent on bypassing the plainly expressed will of the people, and only further enrage an already riled public. Will Congressional leaders nonetheless attempt such tactics? In normal times, such political suicide would seem beyond the realm of possibility.
But these are not normal times, and Democrats' health care fetish has all year seemed to drive all other considerations from their minds – including self-preservation.
Matt Patterson is a policy analyst for the National Center For Public Policy Research and a National Review Institute Washington Fellow. His email is [email protected].
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