The shape of things to come

Hanns Kuttner, at NRO’s Critical Condition blog, offers a reasonably accessible explanation of how the Democrats plan to enact Obamacare. Kuttner says the House Dems will attempt to adopt a “self-executing rule” that, in one vote, passes the Senate health-care-reform bill and a reconciliation bill. If the Dems prevail on that one vote, the Senate health-reform bill would then be sent to the president for his approval. The reconciliation bill would be sent to the Senate for further action.
It’s a weird scheme and one that pushes constitutional limits. As Kuttner notes, though, the judiciary takes a generous view of Congress’ authority to “determine the rules of its proceedings.” Thus, it’s likely that, if the House Dems prevail on their one vote, we will be stuck with some form of Obamacare.
But what form? The reconciliation bill presented to the House via the “self-executing rule” scheme would contain “fixes” that maximize its chances of passage in the House. The Cornhusker Kickback would be eliminated, for example. In addition, it could contain language on abortion designed to assuage Rep. Stupak’s coalition.
House Dems who vote “yes” could then say they voted for the improved legislation, not the Senate bill. Of course, it will be the Senate bill that becomes law, pending whatever happens in the Senate on reconciliation.
As to that matter, the Senate would, as I understand it, be able to make certain fixes, but not others. An abortion fix to its previously passed bill is against the rules and (perhaps more importantly in the current make-it-up-as-you-go-along environment) not desired by the Senate in any case. But other fixes would be permitted, and would require only 50 votes.
Republicans could try to block them through procedural maneuvers. However, to the extent the fixes are aimed at eliminating or improving bad provisions, the Republicans risk assuming partial ownership of these provisions if they stand in the way of the fix.
As I said, this strategy maximizes the prospect of getting the Senate bill out of the House. But will it succeed? It’s not likely to win over hard-core anti-abortion Democrats like Stupak; they understand that the Senate will nullify the anti-abortion language. However, it may help erode Stupak’s coalition.
The abortion issue aside, even with the prospect of other fixes succeeding in the Senate, some House Dems must still be concerned that the slightly improved version of Obamacare will remain highly unpopular with their constituents. These members must also assess the extent to which the procedural manipulation the Dems are undertaking will deeply offend the folks back home.
All things considered, I agree with Scott — “we should be worried.”

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