If you take the messages coming out of the White House and the Democratic leadership about healthcare reform, and roll them around on your tongue, you will get perfunctory notes of “Of course we want a public plan”, but the newly emerging theme seems to be: “Time is of the essence!”
In other words, getting it done quickly may be more important than exactly what we get done. This can’t be good.
What’s the big hurry, anyway? Why is it so important that the House and the Senate vote on the healthcare reform bill before leaving for their summer recess? Brian Beutler argues that there are two possible reasons.
One, the earlier the bill comes up for a vote, the less likely it is that vulnerable legislators up for re-election in 2010 will worry about how their vote may hurt them at the ballot box:
It’s a vote that will likely become an issue in battleground districts during the 2010 congressional elections. And as a rule of thumb, when election season approaches, vulnerable members become more risk averse–less willing, in other words, to vote for controversial legislation.
That doesn’t sound very compelling. This far out from the elections, it’s hard to see a four or five week delay in the vote having a material impact.
The second argument has to do with some sort of budget reconciliation gamesmanship:
If a lot of work remains to be done on health care after the August recess, Congress will find itself fast upon its deadline to pass a budget reconciliation bill. Democrats have suggested that they’d use the reconciliation process to pass health care reform if a bipartisan bill is unable to pass via normal legislative channels by mid-October–Obama’s current goal. The very possibility of going the reconciliation route–and thereby avoiding a filibuster–has served as a weak lever of sorts for congressional leaders–a call to health care reform fence-sitters and opponents to play along, or be shut out of the process altogether. But in reality this isn’t how Democrats–or anybody else on the Hill, really–wants health care to pass.
And yet, if Congress enters recess with weeks of work left to do, party leaders may have to make a call; and those who oppose passing health care through the reconciliation process–Republicans and some Democrats–might be trying to run out the clock–to call leadership’s bluff, or, at the very least, to touch off a game of legislative chicken. If that’s what it comes to, the political fight will be fascinating to watch. But it’s pretty clear that party leaders and a cautious White House would prefer not to have to make the call.
So everybody understands that the Democrats don’t really want to use budget reconciliation to pass the healthcare reform bill. They’re only trying to use budget reconciliation as a lever, and it’s serving only as a weak lever. But if we get too close to the budget reconciliation deadline without the bill having passed in both chambers, the forces of obstruction may try to run out the clock. At which point, the Democratic leadership may be forced to invoke the budget reconciliation process. And so the best option is to cut corners and rush through this legislation, rather than let it come to that?
If this is what’s really at work here, maybe it will occur to someone in time that if you really don’t want to use budget reconciliation to pass the healthcare reform bill (because it might turn the legislation into Swiss cheese, for example), then perhaps the best thing to do if the deadline looms up is to simply ignore the deadline (rather than water down the bill)?