Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pass It...To Kill It?

Lawrence O'Donnell is one of my favorite DC people. Not because he's particularly bright and only partially because he was deeply involved with the production of The West Wing television series.

He pays attention. That's his strength. You see it when he's interviewing someone, you see it when he's on a panel of bloviators, and you see it in his blogging.

You see, by paying attention, you pick up on nuances and details that others miss. Like the fact that, well, Mitch McConnell has all but passed healthcare reform for Harry Reid already:

In Washington, where everyone is desperate to know what's happening behind closed doors, all you have to do to keep something secret is do it out in the open, preferably on C-Span. Mitch McConnell did exactly that when he entered a unanimous consent agreement with Harry Reid about how to proceed on the health care bill. McConnell knew that agreement was going to make it impossible for Republicans to amend the bill and would put it on a fast track toward passage.

McConnell accepted an agreement brilliantly designed by Reid that required 60 votes to pass an amendment. McConnell did that without anyone noticing anything odd after a year of saturation coverage of the importance of 60 votes in the Senate. Everyone outside the Senate now thinks it takes 60 votes to do anything. Not amendments. Amendments pass by a simple majority, 51 votes. Amendments are usually debated for a couple of minutes or hours or days, then voted on. Once in a while, a 60-vote cloture motion is needed to end debate on an amendment. What McConnell agreed to was an implicit cloture motion in every vote on every amendment, thereby completely surrendering the minority's real power. In all my years in the Senate, I never saw a leader make such a mistake. If it was a mistake.

[...]President Obama threatening to violate a campaign pledge by taxing workers' health care plans is one thing, but actually doing it is a dream come true for Republicans. They know the health care reform bill has a handful of taxes like that, none of which were mentioned by any Democrat in the last campaign. They can't wait to campaign to repeal those taxes. The internal Republican strategy debate now is should we repeal the whole bill or maybe leave some of the more popular sounding bits alone? But how can they run on any kind of repeal if Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts and steps into the Senate just in time to kill Obamacare?

If that happens, and the Democrats then scale back their dreams on cap and trade and other liberal ideas, then maybe moderate independents -- including some of Scott Brown's voters -- might think Mitch McConnell has all the Republicans he needs to keep the Democrats on the moderate course those voters prefer. So who is Mitch McConnell really rooting for in Massachusetts?
Absent the future tense and uncertainty of a Brown win, as I'm late to the party on this column.

It is an interesting note that O'Donnell makes. Mistakes are rarely made in the Senate and hardly ever made by the party leadership. Clearly, McConnell intended to leave himself the out that O'Donnell mentions, the ability to have a tax to rail against in November.

Just as the abortion issue could have been settled in favor of the Republican/conservative caucus at any point over the past 16 years or so by aggressively pursuing legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade or at least drastically limit it (not just the nibbling around the edges that has been passed), Republicans could simply have repeated the strategy they pursued in defeating healthcare reform in 1994: submit endless amendments that would eventually exhaust the chamber.

Four real amendments were submitted as well as five requests to return the bill to committee. All were voted "down" in the regard that they did not pass a 60 vote test.

Sure, the Republicans put on a show of opposition: calling for a reading of the bill on the Senate floor, forcing Senator Byrd to roll in on a wheelchair to vote in the middle of the night. To call this a full-court press to defeat the most socialist piece of legislation in the history of this country (even Social Security doesn't force everyone to carry it, only people earning wages) is ludicrous.

Now, it's possible that McConnell made a mistake. It's possible that, when Reid and McConnell made this agreement, McConnell had polling that showed Americans were so deeply in support of reform that they'd tear apart anyone who behaved badly, and McConnell decided it wasn't going to be his side.

And it's also possible that monkeys might fly out of my butt tomorrow, because this fear was diametrically opposite to the strategy that was pursued, which was to so water down the legislation...what? You thought Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman acted independently out of good conscience?...that no one would like it much.

The election of Brown certainly defeats that possibility...unless of course a rookie Senator can be persuaded to tow the line.