Monday, March 1, 2010

Thank you, Mr. Hennessey

My understanding of the current state of the heath care reform bills was that the House had passed one and the Senate had passed a different one. That is, both bodies had already passed a version of Obamacare. With the election of Scott Brown, it is almost impossible to imagine the Senate being able to pass another health care reform bill since the Democrats no longer have the 60 votes necessary to shut down a Republican filibuster. Therefore, the most likely scenario for getting a health care reform bill out of Congress and onto President Obama’s desk was for the House to scrap their already passed bill and pass the exact bill the Senate has already passed. The House and Senate could then pass a completely different second bill which made changes to the just-passed Obamacare bill to incorporate some of the features that are in the House-passed bill but not in the Senate-passed bill - and possibly to incorporate some of the ideas President Obama introduced a week ago. Since the Senate would still not be able to muster 60 votes, the follow-up bill would have to be passed via the 50-votes-needed reconciliation process designed to handle budgetary matters. Thus the follow-up bill could only address matters that could at least semi-reasonably be construed as having to do with the budgetary matters for which reconciliation was intended. Voila! Obamacare becomes law in two bills.

Then on Sunday I read this post by John Podhoretz and became hopelessly confused. Podhoretz is arguing that there are no good option for the Democrats when it comes to passing Obamacare and outlines the four bad options he sees. In the course of that outline he totally confused me with statements like:

The bill that has been voted out of the Senate committee for consideration of the full Senate... Republicans have enough votes to filibuster this bill. [snip]

The way to muscle this legislation into law is for the House to give up its bill, bring the Senate bill (after it’s passed with 51 votes) up for a vote, pass it, and have Obama sign it. [snip]

Even if the Senate does pass the bill through the 51-vote reconciliation process ...

I kept re-reading this and thinking that I must have missed something: Podhoretz seems unaware that the Senate has already passed a bill but surely that can’t be true. I finally decided that either Podhoretz was talking about some other Senate health care bill I was unaware of or there was some legal - not political - reason the House could not just pass the already-passed Senate bill.

Then (thanks to Neo-neocon) I read Keith Hennessey and my confusion subsided. My understanding of the strategy is correct. You can read his detailed and useful explanation of the process here. It is pretty much as I understood although I had not really thought about - and love - his description of the “Byrd bath” necessary to avoid the Republicans raising points of order in order to derail the passage of the follow-up bill via reconciliation.

Thank you, Mr. Hennessey, for reassuring me I had not wandered into some alternate reality. Now if I could just figure out what I missed in Podhoretz’ post, all would be well.

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