Headed for a Healthcare Showdown?

BlogHer Original Post

Right now, I'm watching Democrats hemorrhage Independents in key races, most notably in Virginia. Now, normally, I'd be making conciliatory gestures, convincing myself that I have to focus on 2010, and that the races that mattered haven't happened yet. In fact, they are so far down the road, that its impossible to tell whether tonight will have any impact on them, or whether we've spent every last shred of capital we have nabbing a few races. I'll leave the election analysis to someone else, though. I'm concerned with implications.

In a perfect world (for me), the message from tonight is pretty simple: whatever the Democrats are doing, they're doing it wrong. Faced with enormous support from, well, everyone, but particularly people who consider themselves independents, they spent the last year pushing through an agenda no one -- well, almost no one -- expected.  If this indicates Americans are frightened of that agenda, or at least want it to slow down a little, then the Democratic health care initiatives are headed for a wall at 90 miles an hour. According to Politico, its already looking like its about to be delayed...again.

Democrats have blown so many deadlines for getting health reform done this year that insiders are increasingly skeptical they can finish by year’s end — and some even suggest the effort might slip to a new deadline, before the State of the Union address.

The discussions are an acknowledgment that with only two months left in the year, Democrats are still a long way from sending a bill to the president’s desk. The House could take up reform on the floor as early as this week, with a good shot at passing something by Veterans Day.

But in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid is still wrangling with his moderate members to corral 60 votes just to get the debate started. And on Monday, Reid sent a letter to Republicans acknowledging that he is waiting on the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimates and analysis to finish drafting a bill. Democrats signaled that those estimates would not be ready this week, casting further doubt on their ability to finish reform this year.

Needless to say, no one wants this to happen. If you're going to push through big legislation that has a huge price tag ($1.2 trillion on the House bill), you probably don't want to start moving the final vote close to (1) tax day and (2) an election year. If there's anything the American people are freaking out about right now, its the prospect of having less money than they already do, and the last thing they'll want to be reminded of as they seal up those envelopes for the IRS is that chances are high the checks they write will be much bigger next year. And by then, the primaries will be finished for the major national races. Newbie Democrats who want to hold their seats will be heading home to face anti-tax sentiment and a fresh wave of resentment.

But if health care doesn't get through, 2008 Democrats will have waffled on their biggest promise of the 2008 campaign, which can't look good on their permanent records.

And the bill is about to hit another roadblock. As Kathy of Stone Soup Musings notes, the two sides -- and a strange amalgamation of the two sides -- are about to go to war over how the bill addresses federal funding for abortion.

Bart Stupak is threatening to block the House health care bill from passing over the issue of tax dollars for abortion. He wants to vote his conscience and strip abortion-related provisions out of the House bill, in spite of the fact the bill already contains restrictions to prevent federal funding of abortions.

Bart Stupak is well-known to be a pro-life Democrat, and he votes with the Democratic party about 90% of the time - except when it comes to abortion. Stupak's primary argument is this: federal funding means taxpayers have to directly implicate themselves in a very volatile political issue. Now, if, say, the Congress wanted to address this issue separately, it could - it has the votes to overturn the Hyde Amendment - but instead has chosen to bury it in 1900 pages of boilerplate healthcare language. 39 other House Democrats are joining Stupak in presenting the amendment that will strip the bill of any language that could possibly be interpreted as directing federal funds to abortions.

And then, to add to the confusion, as Jill Stanek points out, there's another, competing amendment that still seems to excoriate language about abortion but not quite.

All I know is that this will all come to a head as soon as the Senate bill makes its way out of committee, onto the floor and into the hands of the American public. And that public is really hard to predict. And antsy.

But at least, by tomorrow, we'll know who they'll be watching.

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