Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Senate Filibuster on Healthcare is Now Essentially an Empty Threat

Most people who talk about the loss of any Democratic/Independent seat in the Senate to a Republican (and this is possible in the Special Election in Massachusetts to fill deceased former Senator Ted Kennedy's seat) before the final vote on a healthcare reform bill speak as if this represents the deathknell for health care reform due to that pernicious and oft-abused filibuster power. But many of these people also fail to realize that once the Senate passes a bill, then if that bill isn't altered and the House passes the already approved Senate version by a simple majority, the bill never goes back to the Senate for another vote of that Chamber. Nope. It would simply go from the House to Obama's desk for his signature.

Now that's probably not the ideal scenario as members of the Democratic caucus in the House would have to accept the Senate's version whole hog (and let's remember that they've already been prepped to understand that any major modifications to anything of substance in the Senate version may cause the 60 vote coalition to fracture in the Senate, so there's already very little room to maneuver in the House/Senate negotiations on the final bill); but I can almost guarantee that the House Democrats would rather have the Senate's version than no version; and even the House Democrats most unsatisfied with the Senate bill would never allow Republicans to gloat that they were able to kill any health care reform proposal so painstakingly secured over the past many months by virtue of any successful GOP Senate filibuster made possible by a freak off-cycle election turnover. In fact, I'd say that even if the Senate Democratic Caucus maintains its 60 vote margin, but someone from that caucus like Lieberman or Nelson or Landrieu gets cold feet after their first "yes" vote, the House could basically undercut even the backtracking of one of its own Senate caucus members to basically pass what's already been approved by the Senate and keep the bill away from the fickle Senators.

So, the short of it is that the Senate has blown its wad on the filibuster. We already have a health care reform bill that made it through the Senate. As long as the House can stomach this version with a simple majority vote, the deal is done.


Eric said...

I'm not so sure the Senate version, as is, would be a done deal in the House if it meant Republicans in competitive districts would be able to accuse Democratic incumbents of "rushing a bill through because they were scared", which is exactly how that woudl get played.

No, if those incumbent Democrats have a chance to send it back to the Senate and get some of the political pressure off their own chests, I think some of them will take it, or at least try to.

Election season has a way of colliding with principle and reason (in both parties) and effecting unexpected results.
I don't doubt your scenario could play out, but I think it is far from a sure thing. Don't forget, a lot of the younger Dems who were elected to the House in 2006 come from conservative districts who were fed up with Republicans, but those districts are still conservative and those politicians are still beholden to thier constituencies.

andrew said...

Eric: You forgot one more thing about those voters.

They're pissed off.

As a business owner you've got a pretty good grasp on why jobs aren't being created. Wouldn't one of those causes be the fact that you don't know whats going to happen to your cost per employee, due to health care reform?

If the employer contribution per employee to the new gov't entitlement program is greater than the expense of paying existing staff to do the work of existing staff plus one (or two, or three, or a hundred) then you just pay overtime. You won't create jobs because doing so would be irresponsible and not fiscally sound.

A businessman has one true responsibility above all else. To ensure the financial solvency of his company for the good of the employees, and investors.

andrew said...


And now your blog post is an empty threat.

There will be reconciliation. The SEIU has demanded it.

Eric said...

"Wouldn't one of those causes be the fact that you don't know whats going to happen to your cost per employee, due to health care reform?"

Absolutely, and I think this will add to a trend I have seen growing over the last 5 years or so: employers (especially small business owners) are increasingly reluctant to hire employees for full time hourly wages if it is possible instead to arrange the relationship so that they are hiring contractors to do a job (perhaps repeatedly) at a set rate. For the employer this means no payroll tax to deal with, less overall liability on a host of issues from sexual harrassment to worker's comp, less concern about employees engaging in personal business while on the clock, and in my experience it leads to a more equitable relationship between the two, becasue people who used to be 'employees' now see themselves as business owners engaged in a transaction with other business owners (which, in fact, they are).

From the employee's standpoint, this means more freedom to do their job in the best way they see fit, the ability to command more money for their work since their employer isn't paying benefits and taxes on them, an opportunity to become more involved in their personal tax situation (which usually leads people to finding ways to reduce their tax libaility), the opportunity to market their skills to more than one buyer, and the ability to make their own honest judgments about doing more work (and getting more money) or enjoying more free time.

The healthcare bill is going to encourage a lot more employers to take a look at their current employees and ask themselves if they couldn't contract this work out.

Huck said...

andrew - I read that Corner comment and I'm not sure how that means the House, if faced with the prospect of a real Senate filibuster, wouldn't cave and accept the Senate version as previously passed. If that were the only way Healthcare Reform will pass, I'm pretty confident there's a good chance House Democrats would (albeit reluctantly) rally around the Senate version. I never said doing so would be a piece of cake or that it is the ideal solution. House/Senate reconciliation is definitely preferred. But if House/Senate reconciliation is nothing but a wasted effort in the face of a guaranteed Senate filibuster, it still seems like the alternative I've referenced in my posting is not only possible, but probable.