Monday, September 14, 2009

Wag the Dog (and Pass Health Care Bills?)

Last Friday we had a boat-load of headlines screaming an imminent trade war between the U.S. and China. Over the weekend China's counter-attack started, accusing the U.S. of subsidizing the exporters.

Then the president this morning was speaking about how they (he and his team) saved the world from financial catastrophe. It is 1-year anniversary of Lehman Brothers' bankruptcy that many say triggered the global credit freeze which led to the global collapse of financial markets and trades.

But what's going on behind these headlines? While people's attention is being diverted, the Senate Finance Committee has been fast working on the health care bill. The chairman of the Committee (Max Baucus, D-Mont.) says his Committee's bill could be released as early as Tuesday (that's tomorrow).

Senate Finance Panel To Release Health Care Reform Plan This Week
(9/14/09 California Healthline) [emphasis is mine]

"On Friday, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced that his committee's health reform bill could be released as early as Tuesday, Politico reports (Budoff Brown, Politico, 9/11).

"Emerging from a meeting with the panel's so-called "Gang of Six" negotiators, Baucus suggested that it is time to proceed on completing a reform bill with or without Republican support.

"Baucus noted that a bipartisan deal still could be possible during the mark-up stage, slated to begin the week of Sept. 21, Roll Call reports.

"Baucus said, "We had a very good meeting today," adding, "Monday we'll meet in the hopes of reaching resolution. But again it's understood that we have to start making some decisions" (Drucker, Roll Call, 9/11)."

I didn't catch this news on Friday (the linked article below says the news was on Friday 9/11 on Politico and Roll Call), until I saw the headline today on C-Span.

Note the chairman Baucus's comment hinting that Democrats are ready to proceed without GOP's support. Normally it needs 60 votes to pass a bill in the 100-member Senate. There are 59 Democrats, 40 Republicans, one seat vacant in Massachusetts. There are a few Republican Senators who often vote with Democrats (Olympia Snowe of Maine, for one), so Democrats may indeed have the votes. To be sure of the passage, though, a procedure is more likely that allows them to pass the bill with simple majority and without filibuster.

That's called "reconciliation". This blog reported on the possibility back in June.

Reconciliation is a legislative process of the U.S. Congress (enacted by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974) intended to allow a contentious budget bill to be considered without being subject to filibuster. Reconciliation is the process more relevant to the Senate, as the House can pass rules to restrain debate.

Under reconciliation instruction, the debate is restricted to 20 hours, and the Senate can pass the bill with simple majority, instead of 60.

Now, you may ask "How come a procedure for a budget bill is used for the health care bill?" That what I asked myself. It turns out that since 1996 reconciliation can be applied to any legislation that could affect the budget (positively - reducing the deficit or negatively - increasing the deficit). In the case of the administration's health care bill, it is likely to impact the budget negatively (flip-flopping CBO notwithstanding) and therefore it's a fair game for reconciliation. (Wikipedia entry lacks citation though.)

Democratic leaders have already hinted at going it alone. President Obama himself said as much in his speeches last week, in which he berated the opponents as playing politics [and he isn't playing politics?] and tried to portray opposition as usual bickering in Washington. He is apparently oblivious to the townhall meetings across the country against health care "reform" as laid out by him and his party, and maybe didn't see the huge demonstration in Washington DC on September 12 as he flew over them in his Marine One helicopter. Just like his predecessor, he doesn't seem to care about poll numbers suggesting the majority of voters oppose his health care reform.

It's like the arcade game Whack a Mole. So many gophers are popping up at the same time and even if you are super-sharp and attentive one or two are bound to get away.


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