Saturday, March 13, 2010

Obamu's Health Care Debacle

obamu: (v.) To ignore inexpedient and inconvenient facts or realities, think “Yes we can, Yes we can,” and proceed with optimism using those facts as an inspiration (literally, as fuel).

What are they thinking?

President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress are either making a massive tactical error or . . . well . . . nothing. I'm at a loss to present another viable explanation.

My evaluation is not unique. Others have compared the futility of it to Pickett's Charge, which probably destroyed any chance of the Confederates to win the Civil War.

The President has gone "all in" on health care, essentially betting all of his chips on the Senate's health care bill. The plan is to have the House of Representatives pass the Senate bill as is, thereby avoiding a conference committee, which would hammer out a compromise bill that both the House and the Senate would have to vote on again. The Administration realizes that the they need to limit the number of votes and thereby the opportunities to amend the bill. Otherwise. the push for comprehensive health care reform will likely collapse.

However, a look at the political landscape in Washington and the forces marshaling on the various fronts of the political debate indicates that the President has--to extend the poker metaphor--gone all in against "the nuts," the best possible hand in the situation. Even more surprising is that President Obama has not noticed this or is ignoring all of the "tells" that show that he has the losing hand. Yet given how obsessively Obama and the Democrats have focused on health care to the exclusion of almost everything else for the last eight or nine months, perhaps this tactical error should not be that surprising.

The numbers have simply broken against the Democratic leadership. The House bill (H.R. 3962), which included a "public option" and strictly prohibited public funding of abortions, passed by a vote of 220-215 on November 7, with only one Republican--Representative Joseph Cao (R-LA)--voting for the bill. On December 24, the Senate passed its version (H.R. 3590), which does not include a public option, but does allow public funding of abortions, by a straight party-line vote of 60-39. For the Administration, the razor thin margin in the House vote is particularly problematic.

Since Christmas Eve vote, the landscape has shifted dramatically, beginning with the political earthquake of Scott Brown (R-MA) winning the U.S. Senate seat that was considered property of the Kennedy family. He won largely by campaigning against the health care bill. While his win broke the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, the real damage may be in the House, where already nervous Democrats now realize that almost no seat will be safe in the November elections.

It is extremely doubtful that any additional House Republicans will cross the isle to vote for the Senate bill, and Cao has already vowed to vote against it. Three House Democrats who voted for the House bill in December are gone: Representative John Murtha (D-PA) died on February 8, and Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) have since resigned. Representative Eric Massa (D-NY), who voted against the House bill, resigned on March 9. (We'll ignore the accompanying soap opera, which probably hasn't helped the bill's chances.) In contrast, Nathan Deal (R-GA) has postponed his resignation so he can vote against the health care bill. Assuming nothing else has changed, this puts the vote count at 216-215.

However, a coalition of 12 House Democrats who voted for the House bill have threatened to vote against the Senate bill, and their leader, Bart Stupak (D-MI), seems particularly determined, although the White House has apparently "peeled off" a few of the Stupak dozen. This means that the White House has lost its margin of error in the House, and while it can definitely bring great pressure to bear, views on abortion are notoriously impervious to normal types of political pressure. Conceivably, the House could amend the Senate bill to prohibit abortion funding, but that would almost be as good as voting it down because the Senate would have to pass the amended bill, which will be nearly impossible in the no longer filibuster-proof Senate.

Talk about promising the Stupak dozen to pass a reconciliation bill (basically, a bill that fixes a previous bill) that prohibits public funding of abortions is a diversionary tactic. Presumably, the Stupak dozen realize this. In spite of attempts by Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to somehow pass the bill without actually voting on it--a truly remarkable democratic innovation--the health care bill must become law before the House can vote on a reconciliation bill. Yet once the Senate bill becomes law, the Senate has no incentive to pass the reconciliation bill, even if the House passes it, and the Stupak dozen will be left with nothing to show for their principles.

Quite simply, the House Democrats don't have the votes, and there isn't any reasonable prospect of getting them with polls showing that the public doesn't want this health care bill, President Obama's approval rating in the basement, and the Tea Party loudly voicing its disapproval.

The whole situation reminds me of a quote by Napoleon Bonaparte: "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Perhaps casting the Democrats, especially their leadership, as enemies is a bit harsh, but not by much in this specific instance. Their health care "reform" bill would put one-sixth of the U.S. economy under government control. It would limit health care choices, stifle medical innovation, add trillions to national debt, and further suppress the economy.

Thus, it should be not surprise that I hope they fail, and fail miserably. Given how the votes are stacking up, I am quite confident that they will fail, but still succeed in further infuriating many voters who are already offended at Congress's efforts to enslave them.

I intend to enjoy the spectacle, culminating with a shellacking in November.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Hat tip for "obamu" definition:  Don Surbur

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