23 December 2009

Focus on the real problem

There seems little reason left for doubt that the health-care reform soon to be passed is a victory. Most sober commenators on the left support it (see posting below) and every right-wing source I have seen, even the moderates, is denouncing it as a loss for their side. The bitter pills, of course, are the loss of the public option and the Medicare expansion, the bad abortion language, and other deformities which had to be imposed on the bill in order to get to the de facto 60-vote threshold imposed by Senate filibuster rules.

Many people are very angry about those changes, which is under-standable, but every posting I have seen so far expressing that anger has been an exercise in missing the point, because the anger is directed at the wrong target, usually Senate Democrats or "the Democrats" in general. It should be directed at the Senate rules.

How, people ask, can we have a 58-40 majority and still not be able to get something better than this? The answer is quite simple: it's those rules that require 60 votes to pass anything.

The problem isn't that the Democrats in Congress didn't want a good bill. Most of them did, and do. The House passed a good bill, with a public option. It was able to do that because it operates by simple majority. If the Senate did as well, Lieberman and the Blue Dogs would have been irrelevant, and a bill similar to the House version would probably have been passed there too.

The 60-vote rule to stop a filibuster is not in the Constitution. It's just a Senate procedural rule. It could be changed, and has been in the past. For most of the Senate's history the threshold was 67 votes; it was lowered to 60 in a rule change in 1975.

Now that the concessions to Lieberman and other obstructionists to reach 60 votes have dramatized the undemocratic nature of the filibuster rule, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has been talking about pushing for another rule change which would lower the threshold little by little on successive votes (details here). He should move forward with this proposal, and the public should be prepared to exert pressure on their own Senators in support of it.

All the legitimate anger over the loss of the public option should be channeled into supporting this goal. If the rule is not changed, forty Republicans plus one troublemaker will be able to impose this kind of obstructionism on every major piece of legislation that the Democrats try to get through the Senate. Getting angry at Senate Democrats as a group is stupid. Most of them wanted the same things we did. We need to focus on the real problem, the problem that stopped them from getting us what we wanted.

I have argued that, bad as the Senate compromise is, we should still support passage. If it doesn't pass, we won't get something better; we'll be stuck with the cruel and unsustainable status quo. If it passes, it can be improved later. Most of the major reforms in American history were carried out by this kind of incremental process.

And the way to ensure that those improvements can be enacted during future Senate sessions in the near-term future is to get the Senate filibuster rule changed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Infidel, my question is: after this bill is passed, how do we move toward single-payer health care, in light of the fact that the bill strengthens the existing dysfunctional system and the power of private insurance companies (those few timid concessions hardly inconvenience them)?

As Lincoln Mitchell argues, rather than being "a foot in the single-payer door," the bill will likely slam the door on the opportunity for the real health care reform for years, if not generations, to come.

I participated in the on-line chat with Rep. Weiner last night, and even he is not sure whether the bill creates or impedes progress on the real health care reform. Weiner himself has serious doubts about the future of health care if the bill passes (but he will vote for it, because: 1. he's still hoping the House can squeeze in a favorable provision or two, and 2. there are good enough things in it that scraping it altogether is not a good option, in his opinion).

23 December, 2009 08:24  
Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

As you probably already know, I am in total agreement with you.

Harkin tried to get the same sort of filibuster rule passed in 1995. Interestingly, Lieberman was a co-sponsor.

I'm leaving a comment on your comment policy.

23 December, 2009 09:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Elizabeth, the topic of this posting is the Senate filibuster rule and what to do about it.

As you know, I don't agree with you that the bill "strengthens the existing dysfunctional system" and I've given plenty of links to the reasons why, so I'm not going to rehash that.

I've always favored a system with a public option, not single payer. With the current bill the chance of further progress is there, just as such reforms have usually been carried out incrementally in the past. Without it, it's zero for the foreseeable future.

I won't accept further comments which are off-topic.

Leslie: Nothing Lieberman does surprises me any more, given that he threatened to filibuster the bill because it contained the Medicare expansion he himself had advocated mere weeks before. At this point it seems obvious he will support whatever he's offered enough money to support.

That's why, rather than rehashing what went wrong with the current bill (which is essentially a done deal now) we need to focus on the filibuster rule which gave him the power to obstruct a better bill.

23 December, 2009 09:27  
Blogger TomCat said...

Infidel, I still think this bill stinks, but I'd rather hold my nose now than give the GOP a win that would shut down reform for another generation. When Medicare first passed, it was part A only.

23 December, 2009 12:50  
Anonymous Teresa said...

What about if or when the Republicans get the senate back? What if the Dems need the filibuster then?

23 December, 2009 14:49  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

TomCat: That's just it. Most of these major reforms were done that way. But we need to get rid of the 60-vote rule so that better revisions can be enacted soon. I just wish they'd thought to change the rule before the health-reform debate.

Teresa: Well, it will give the Democrats an incentive to do a better job so that we vote for them and that doesn't happen. Anyway, elections are supposed to matter. 58-40 is a mandate from the people. The filibuster rule is keeping the Democrats from exercising that mandate.

If they screw up badly enough, or our side's voters get apathetic or deluded enough, to let the Republicans take control again -- well, then, they'll be the ones who have the mandate.

23 December, 2009 15:21  
Blogger Sue said...

Merry Christmas Infidel!

24 December, 2009 03:30  
Blogger TomCat said...

Off topic, Merry Christmas to Infidel and all here. Now that sounds fummy, huh? Oh, to our essident teabaggers, Happy Holidays! ;-)

24 December, 2009 09:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks, both! TomCat, that should get their teabags brewing nicely.:-)

24 December, 2009 09:33  
Blogger Karen said...

Merry Christmas!

24 December, 2009 10:02  
Blogger Joe "Truth 101" Kelly said...

There is nothing that can't be fixed when we have the votes. We need the victory as TomCat says.

24 December, 2009 12:27  
Blogger SantaCat said...

Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas to all you cool cats and pretty kitties! And have a purrrfect New Year!

25 December, 2009 08:18  

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