Health Care Hits the Senate


Welcome to the Senate, health care reform watchers, a deliberative body so deliberative that it required a solid eight hours of debate this weekend to decide whether or not to proceed with… several more weeks of debate. And most of that "debate" occurred after all the participants had made their views known. As Ezra Klein notes, this phase of the never-ending reform slog will consist mostly of Democrats finding ways to count to 60—to amend the bill, perhaps, and, at some point, to close off debate and have the actual vote. 

The 60 vote threshold creates something of a hurdle for reformers, in large part because it gives those Democrats least interested in voting for reform (or at least reform that looks something like the legislation we now see) a significant incentive to be difficult. The result, as we've already seen, is a lot of hemming and hawing and hard bargaining over pet side-provisions, like, for example, the $100 million in extra funding for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu got.

Of course, all of the wheeling and dealing may just be a kabuki routine. Are any of the grumbling moderates actually willing to walk away from the deal and cause their party's biggest initiative in a decade or more to go down in flames? I'd say it's doubtful, but not impossible, particularly if the poll numbers for reform legislation keep dropping. Right now, according to Pollster.com, opposition is at 47.7 percent, with only 40 percent favorable. Meanwhile, Obama's overall job approval rating has dropped below 50 percent, and disapproval for his handling of the health care debate is at 48 percent, with 44 percent in favor. This numbers probably aren't enough to kill the legislation quite yet, but if they drop much further, I can imagine a handful of moderate Senators ignoring the call of history for a moment and asking which side of public opinion they really want to be on.