Obama playing hard ball on health care to prevent GOP filibuster

Congress will take up health care reform under the reconciliation process. That’s very good news. It means the Republican Senators can’t filibuster the legislation — and that Obama doesn’t have to sell out his proposal to get votes of Republicans or even those conservative Democrats. The bill needs 51 votes, not 60.

The New York Times reports that Obama was the driving force for using reconciliation:

At the prodding of the White House, Democratic Congressional leaders have agreed to pursue a plan that would protect major health care legislation from Republican opposition by shielding it from last-minute Senate filibusters.

The aggressive approach reflects the big political claim that President Obama is staking on health care, and with it his willingness to face Republican wrath in order to guarantee that the Democrats, with their substantial majority in the Senate, could not be thwarted by minority tactics.

While some Democratic senators were reluctant to embrace the arrangement, Mr. Obama made clear at a White House session on Thursday afternoon that he favored it, people with knowledge of the session said.

Mr. Obama has given way in some battles with Congress, but the new stance suggests he may be much less willing to compromise when it comes to health care, his top legislative priority, even if it means a bitter partisan fight.

The no-filibuster arrangement is fiercely opposed by Republican leaders, who say health care is too important to be exempted from the Senate rules that usually mean major bills must win support from 60 senators.

At the White House meeting this week, Mr. Obama told senators from both parties that he did not want a health care overhaul to fail if it came up a vote shy of the 60 needed to break filibusters, the people with knowledge of the session said. Republicans have used the procedure themselves in the past, but Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, told Mr. Obama in the meeting that that approach was likely to heighten partisan tensions in Congress.

Several points:

First, good for Obama. That’s the kind of leadership we need to pass health care reform.

Second, from what I hear (and as Senator Kent Conrad indicated to the Times), several Democratic Senators really didn’t want to go along with this reconciliation plan. I wrote a post on this yesterday. It’s mind-boggling that Democratic Senators still worry about bi-partisanship. They act like bi-partisanship is the ultimate goal. That’s so wrong. It may come in handy sometimes as a tactic, but, the goal is good legislation. (Plus, this move also takes power away from those conservative Democrats who could play games if 60 votes were needed. Even the votes of some Democrats are expendable here.)

Finally, Mitch McConnell says the Republicans are going to be mad. The NY Times thinks Obama may face GOP ‘wrath.” Whatever. They already are mad and Obama’s been facing their wrath since he got elected. How many voted for the stimulus in the middle of an economic crisis? Three. How many voted for the budget? None. The same day McConnell was at the White House whining about the Democrats using reconciliation, he was leading a filibuster against Kathleen Sebelius’ nomination to be Secretary of HHS. The traditional media has been obsessed with the topic of bi-partisanship, but fail to see it as a two-way street.

This is an important move by the president. Clearly, he is committed to passing the agenda of change upon which he was elected. Health care reform is at the top of his agenda. Let’s not forget, the titular head of the GOP wants Obama to fail. It’s unfortunate that so many Democratic Senators were idiotic enough to fall into the GOP trap — again and again and again.

It’s probably good that Obama served in the Senate — and served only for a short time. He has a sense of how insular and out-of-touch many of those people are — and wasn’t there long enough to become one of them. If any of the Democrats in the Senate looked around, they might notice there are a lot more of them than in 2006. They’ve been winning elections by promising change and among other things, health care reform. It’s time to use the power to deliver. On this issue, Obama gets that.

Now, the challenge is to get real health care reform. If it gets screwed up now, it’s because Democrats screwed up their signature issue — and gave too much power to the health insurance industry and its lobbyists.

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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