As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gang Of Six Member Recognizes That Bipartisanship Is Dead

Jeff Bingaman, the least vocal member of the Gang of Six, is resigning himself to the reality that his bipartisan funfest is nothing more than a charade, and anyone who actually wants to pass health care reform is on the Democratic side of the aisle.

Sen. Jeff Binagaman (D-NM)--one of the six members of the Senate Finance Committee who have been hashing out a health care reform bill for months--says that if bipartisan negotiations go nowhere, he'd support an effort to circumvent a filibuster and pass legislation without any Republicans.

"If we are unable to do it any other way, that is an option. It is a very difficult option," Bingaman told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall event in Albuquerque yesterday. He was referring to the possibility that Democrats will pass health care reform through the so-called budget reconciliation process.

The acknowledgment signals that even those members of Congress most invested in passing bipartisan health care reform are well aware that those efforts might not bear fruit.

"I don't think that that effort [at bipartisanship] is what is stymying progress," Bingaman said.

"It may well not succeed, but it has been worth the effort, and we are continuing with it."

I obviously don't agree that it's been worth the effort, but if you're a Democrat who really doesn't want to pass health care reform without bipartisan cover, it has. But the moderates made a tactical error. They now risk passing no bill at all because Republicans won't budget one inch to help them. They've allowed the town hall meeting craziness narrative to take hold, to the extent that even liberals like Russ Feingold are proclaiming that there will be no bill until Christmas. The legislative fight has become a test of mettle, and if Democrats lose their most vulnerable members will simply be wiped out next year. So now they really have to do this on their own. You wouldn't see Democrats openly talk about waiving the Byrd rule if that wasn't the case.

Should Democrats use the procedure known as reconciliation, the assumption has been that certain elements would have to be stripped out of the bill and passed separately, because a Senate rule known as the Byrd Rule only allows reconciliation for legislation that costs or raises substantial amounts of money. That would include the expansion of Medicare or Medicaid, revenue-raising tax provisions, and even the creation of a public health insurance option, depending on how it's written. But non-budget-related items -- most of the new insurance industry regulations, for instance -- would presumably be put in a separate bill that would go through regular order -- and would therefore need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Passing two separate bills, however, is seen by some Democrats as too much of a lift for the slow-moving Senate.

But there's another alternative, according to Martin Paone. Paone, who served as a Democratic Senate floor staffer for 29 years, has been advising Democrats as they craft their legislative strategy. He proposes that Democrats try to get 60 votes to waive the Byrd Rule -- which would then allow the inclusion of those non-budget-related provision in one bill that would require only 51 votes for final passage [...]

Conservative senators such as Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) or Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) could, in voting for a Byrd Rule waiver, put themselves on the record as being in support of popular insurance industry reforms, while still opposing final passage of the bill -- a political strategy that may be appealing to them.

This happened in both 1990 and 1997, under Democrats and Republicans. The world didn't end.

Mike Lux has a primer on the best practices to get a good bill through the sausage-making process. Let's check off where we're at on them:

• Hold the progressives in the House to only vote for a public option. So far, so good. They've signed multiple letters, taken multiple pledges, sent a very clear message about their determination. They need to stay strong.

• Get the Democrats in the Senate to accept that this will have to be a Democrats-only bill. This seems to be moving in the right direction. Schumer sent exactly the right message over the weekend, and it's clear things are beginning to head that way.

• Split the bill into two parts in the Senate, with the public option and the financing going through the reconciliation process. Democats are sending signals that they are moving in that direction as well.

• Get enough Senators on board for the public option. The whip count DFA and we at OpenLeft have been running shows us at 45. We need five more, and there are several Democrats I think are prime possibilities to come along if this is the path we go down.

• Above all, don't panic. There will be some rough days ahead. Certain Senators will keep saying we can't get this done, and pundits will continue to shed the worst possible light on each day's events. But we just need to hang tough, hold strong, and keep working.

Everything's moving in the right direction, actually, and on #3 we're seeing the Senate take a look at an even bolder line. But panic is always in the air when you're dealing with Democrats.

...Shep Smith is going to get fired.

The last thing I'm worried about is that Republicans will be able to stop the budget reconciliation process. Nobody really cares about Senate procedure and you can't build a movement out of it. They're trying to scare Democrats into not using it, and that may work, but everybody knows that the GOP is full of crap on this one. Even Shep Smith.

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