Monday, March 1, 2010

Selling Reconciliation

Last weeks’ health care summit was a sight to see. Democrats and Republicans discussed their positions on health care and insurance policies at length and in-depth. The main pre-scripted messages of both parties got hammered through (Republicans: “Let’s start over”, and Democrats: “We agree on so many things”), but in the midst of this there was an intelligent, frank conversation that included open, honest and polite disagreement. Anyone who believes that nothing has changed in Washington since President Obama’s election is wrong. This type of conversation never, EVER, would have happened during the Bush years.

However, what was the real impact of this summit? It’s not clear. This summit could be remembered as a turning point in Mr. Obama’s presidency or just another failed attempt at bi-partisanship. How this summit is remembered will depend entirely on whether or not Democrats manage to pass a health care bill. While many Americans claim to care about bi-partisanship, the attempt of bi-partisanship may be forgotten but the effects of a health care bill will live on. Thus, passing a health care bill is the most important thing for Democrats to do. I believe that if Democrats fail to pass health care they will jeopardize their majority in both houses. Furthermore, they will lose the enthusiasm of so many of the young voters who turned out for Mr. Obama a little over a year ago.

I believe that the push for bi-partisanship in the health care summit was genuine. However, at the same time, he was also realistic. In his closing remarks, he acknowledged the position many Republicans are in:

“And the truth of the matter is that politically speaking, there may not be any reason for Republicans to want to do anything. I mean, we can debate what our various constituencies think. I know that -- I don't need a poll to know that most of Republican voters are opposed to this bill and might be opposed to the kind of compromise we could craft. It would be very hard for you politically to do this.”

He continued:

So the question that I'm going to ask myself and I ask of all of you is, is there enough serious effort that in a month's time or a few weeks' time or six weeks' time we could actually resolve something?

And if we can't, then I think we've got to go ahead and some make decisions, and then that's what elections are for.”

And of course, by “decisions” Mr. Obama was talking about reconciliation. The house just needs to pass the Senate bill, and then with a simple majority the Senate can accept changes through the reconciliation process.

Last year, both the House and the Senate passed health care bills. At this point, the House and Senate leaders would get together, come to some compromise, and then the compromised bill would come back to the House and the Senate and both would have to vote to pass the agreed upon bill. With the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, it became clear to everyone that this could no longer happen. Senator Brown vowed to be the 41st vote needed to filibuster the health care bill.

This election was made possible by a great number of events, but as discussed in this blog before, a MAIN issue was that the Democrats just didn’t sell their health care bill well. Polls continue to show that people support the individual aspects of the democrat’s health care bill, but claim not to support the bill itself (

Having the President’s version of health care reform out will help democrats sell this better since there will be one bill that the democrats can talk about. But more important than selling the health care bill now, will be selling it once it is passed. So how do we get there?

The Democrats need to sell reconciliation. Selling reconciliation is necessary to get Democrats to use reconciliation. And the sell should be this: The Senate already passed the health care bill. If it is true that the public option is being dropped then the changes to the Senate Bill will be minor. In fact, most of the changes would be minor improvements to the healthcare bill – all of which could easily be sold to the public (like dropping the “Nebraska Deal”). Reconciliation will not be used to push through legislation that didn’t get a 60 vote majority. It won’t be used to push non-health care legislation through (like education reform, or non-healthcare related tax increases or cuts). Reconciliation will simply be used to finalize a bill already passed by the Senate.

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