No Health Reform Reconciliation Until Obama Signs Bad Bill

Obama Holds NoseAs widely anticipated, the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that “President Barack Obama must sign Congress’ original health care reform bill before the Senate can act on a companion reconciliation package.”  According to Ezra Klein, some Democrats are putting the best possible spin on this:

In the Democrats’ Senate Caucus meeting today, Kent Conrad apparently argued that this left the Democrats in an even stronger moral position. The reconciliation rider fixes unpopular elements of the health-care bill: the Nebraska deal, the Florida deal, the excise tax and so forth. If Republicans figure out some nuclear level of obstruction that could actually derail the reconciliation process, then they will effectively own the worst elements of the Senate bill, and Democrats can just spend their time hammering Republican obstructionism that has so lost touch with reality that they’d rather keep legislation they’re against than let Democrats fix it. Or so goes the argument.

The problem with that is twofold.

First, this ruling makes it much harder for skeptical House Democrats to go along  and easier for them to explain a No vote.  This is especially true of Stupak and his allies who have gone on record as saying they won’t vote for a bill that doesn’t fix the abortion language. Which, of course, is why the Democratic leadership was hoping the ruling would go the other way.

Second, it means  Obama will have to sign what everyone agrees is a very bad bill passed with zero Republican votes in the House and only one in the Senate.  That’s what Republicans were hoping for all along.

Now, I agree that, if the Democrats go along with all this, there will be strong pressure on the Republicans to vote for a bill to undo the worst elements.  We’ll see how that plays out.   But we’re still a long way from that.

Links via memeorandum. Photo via Getty Images.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    Would have ben a lot cleaner if the really bad parts did not have to be added to gain those last two Senate votes. However, the politics of this will get interesting. I assume the Dems will try to pass the reconciliation in one large bill. If Republicans vote against it they will be the ones keeping in the Nebraska clause and such. I assume the Republicans will want to piecemeal it.

    OTOH, maybe Republicans double down. Part of their strategy all along has been to make sure that any bill which passed would be as bad as possible. To date, this has ben very effective electoral politics.


  2. Stan says:

    Everybody doesn’t agree that this is a bad bill, and if the Republicans really think passing it would hurt the Democrats they wouldn’t keep saying so in such a public manner. As usual, Joyner’s partisan sentiments get in the way of his analysis.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    The House distrust isn’t simply with their co-partisans. The reconciliation bill will have to pass the scrutiny of the Senate parliamentarian, a technocrat somewhat removed from political calculus. There is an irony here.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Steve, I think the Republicans will use the reconciliation process to propose popular, wedge-like amendments. I would guess there will be two classes: (1) conservative proposals to trim costs like tort reform, and (2) free beer.

    The amendment process would seem to be a great opportunity for a minority party to define itself and get a vote on its agenda. Normally, the majority would prevent these proposals from getting to the floor.

  5. Raoul says:

    From what I read, the information contained herein is erroneous. But that happens when you read and trust the Republican script. I do think an update is necessary. Read CQ via dailykos.

  6. Herb says:

    As usual, Joyner’s partisan sentiments get in the way of his analysis.

    Not trying to be Chief Joyner Apologist, but usually his partisan sentiments don’t get in the way of his analysis. They color it, sure, but he’s far from a polemical bomb-thrower.

    Not only that, this is what I think he’s referring to when he says “everyone agrees is a very bad bill.”

    Democrats don’t think it goes far enough, Republicans think it goes too far. In other words, no one is pleased. Hence “everyone agrees” it’s a bad bill.

    They just disagree about why.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Democrats don’t think it goes far enough, Republicans think it goes too far. In other words, no one is pleased. Hence “everyone agrees” it’s a bad bill.

    Right. And I don’t know that anyone is happy about the implementation, either, even if they support the basic policy choices. That may be inevitable with such a comprehensive bill but it’s politically problematic.

  8. steve says:

    PD-Good point about amendments. I would expect a ton of them in order to delay the process, while they complain about attempts to ram through this bill, which is taking over a year to get passed. I am not really sure what popular, wedge issues you are thinking about that would be consistent with cost cutting.


  9. Dodd says:

    That picture just screams to be made into a demotivator: