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March 01, 2010

Andy McCarthy's Dire Prediction on Reconciliation and ObamaCare

I think we've all been thinking this. I've even been writing it. But Andy McCarthy does it much better.

On Sean's panel last night, when the conversation turned to how nervous Democrats supposedly are over what for now is teeing up like a very bad November, I felt like I was channeling Mark Steyn, Mark Levin, and Rush. That is, I think our side is analyzing this all wrong: Today's Democrats are controlled by the radical Left, and it is more important to them to execute the permanent transformation of American society than it is to win the upcoming election cycles. They have already factored in losing in November — even losing big. For them, winning big now outweighs that. I think they're right.

I hear Republicans getting giddy over the fact that "reconciliation," if it comes to that, is a huge political loser. That's the wrong way to look at it. The Democratic leadership has already internalized the inevitablility of taking its political lumps. That makes reconciliation truly scary. Since the Dems know they will have to ram this monstrosity through, they figure it might as well be as monstrous as they can get wavering Democrats to go along with. Clipping the leadership's statist ambitions in order to peel off a few Republicans is not going to work. I'm glad Republicans have held firm, but let's not be under any illusions about what that means. In the Democrat leadership, we are not dealing with conventional politicians for whom the goal of being reelected is paramount and will rein in their radicalism. They want socialized medicine and all it entails about government control even more than they want to win elections. After all, if the party of government transforms the relationship between the citizen and the state, its power over our lives will be vast even in those cycles when it is not in the majority. This is about power, and there is more to power than winning elections, especially if you've calculated that your opposition does not have the gumption to dismantle your ballooning welfare state.

Consequently, the next six weeks, like the next ten months, are going to be worse than we think. We're wired to think that everyone plays by the usual rules of politics — i.e., if the tide starts to change, the side against whom it has turned modifies its positions in order to stay viable in the next election. But what will happen here will be the opposite. You have a party with the numbers to do anything it puts its mind to, led by movement Leftists who see their window of opportunity is closing. We seem to expect them to moderate because that's what everybody in their position does. But they won't. They will put their heads down and go for as much transformation as they can get, figuring that once they get it, it will never be rolled back. The only question is whether there are enough Democrats who are conventional politicians and who care about being reelected, such that they will deny the leadership the numbers it needs. But I don't think we should take much heart in this possibility. Those Democrats may well come to think they are going to lose anyway...

Charles Krauthammer, meanwhile, thinks the entire point of Obama's sham summit was to give him cover to claim he's addressed the charges of a corrupt process, and go ahead with reconciliation:

The reason he is doing all of this is because independents — who went against him in Virginia and in New Jersey two to one, in Massachusetts three to one — are the ones who are most upset about the process, about the idea of it being corrupt.

He wants to show the process is now a clean one. It's his process. It is no longer of the Congress. He has taken control, and that's why I think this is all a set up.

For a bit of good news, Keith Hennessey outlines the big political and procedural hurdles ObamaCare has yet to clear.

He notes a possible tool the Republicans can use to stop reconciliation -- but it's never been tried, and he doesn't know if Harry Reid has some special procedural rule to stop it. Infinite amendments:

Senate floor debate on a reconciliation bill is limited to 20 hours. There is no limit on amendments that can be offered. This means that, after two full days of debate and amendments, twenty hours will have expired. Any amendments which are queued up (or are then offered) are then voted on, in sequence, with no debate (in theory). In practice the Senators will often agree to precede each vote with 30 seconds of debate from the proponent and 30 seconds from an opponent.

For a normal reconciliation bill, there are anywhere from 15 to 60 amendments stacked up. Assume 15 minutes per vote when the Senate is working at top speed. The Senate spends many hours in a seemingly endless series of stacked votes. This is called the vote-a-rama.


During the vote-a-rama you have 100 Senators and about the same number of staff on the Senate floor or in the cloakrooms for anywhere from four to fifteen or more consecutive hours.

A well-disciplined Senate majority party can defeat every amendment with a simple majority by simply voting to table (kill) each amendment. This has a slightly different procedural and political feel than defeating the amendment but the same practical effect. Still, the minority can often use the vote-a-rama to force members of the majority party to take politically tough votes. I would expect vulnerable Senate Democrats to be looking to vote with Republicans on some of these votes to avoid political risks for their campaign. This should not be too big of a challenge for Leader Reid, since he needs to hold only 50 of 59 for each tabling vote. He can allow vulnerable individual Democrats to take a walk on particularly difficult amendments.

The novel twist this time would be the possibility of a Senate Republican filibuster by amendment during the vote-a-rama. Even a single Republican could, in theory, offer an infinite sequence of amendments to each word of the bill, never allowing Leader Reid to get to final passage.

This has never happened. Even in times of extreme partisan stress over highly contentious reconciliation bills, the minority has forced a handful or two of tough votes and then allowed the reconciliation bill to move to final passage. But in sixteen years I have never seen the reconciliation process placed under as much stress as is suggested by this strategy.

This provokes two questions to which I do not know the answer:

* If Senate Republicans continue to press their argument that use of reconciliation is abusive in this case, will they avail themselves of this tool?

* Does Leader Reid have a procedural option to shut it down? I will guess his staff are exploring options for a ruling by the chair to shut down such a sequence if the Chair (controlled by Reid) determines the extended sequence of amendments is dilatory.

This is another area where I know only the questions.

The most difficult hurdle, however, will be getting the Blue Dogs to vote for the Senate bill without Stupak's abortion language.

His previous post on the rules and purpose of reconciliation is worth a read. Basically reconciliation makes the Senate -- where each Senator has strong individual rights, and the minority is well-protected -- like the House -- where majority rules on all things -- but for one purpose only, to bring down the deficit.

Finally, at Heritage, a four-minute recap of the seven and a half hour summit.

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posted by Ace at 01:37 PM

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