Chances of passing a health care billMarch 10, 2010Jon Brooks 8 Comments »
Not so fast there, Ayn Rand fan. That graphic comes from a January 22 post called “It’s dead”, written by former Bush White House economist Keith Hennessey, a few days after a Republican had vanquished the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s would-be Democratic successor in Massachussetts, becoming the 41st, filibuster-enabling vote in the Senate against health care reform. At the time, Hennessey wrote this:
Yesterday I compared the comprehensive bill to Schrödinger’s cat: it was both alive and dead, and this uncertainty would be resolved only when we could see inside the box of the House Democratic Caucus. Speaker Pelosi opened the box for us yesterday:
“In its present form without any change, I don’t think it’s possible to pass the Senate bill in the House.”
But the House folding and passing the Senate bill was the highest probability path to a signed comprehensive law. The path the Speaker is pursuing instead, of getting the Senate to act on a separate second bill, is too hard to execute logistically, substantively, and politically…I wrote yesterday that the bill is not dead until the Speaker says it’s dead. I think she in effect did so yesterday. Based on this development I have increased my prediction of collapse to 90%, and I believe the comprehensive bill is dead.
However, Hennessey also wrote that one possible option for Democrats was a parliamentary maneuver called “reconciliation,” but that “neither the White House nor Congressional Democrats appear to have seriously considered using reconciliation as a substitute for the work already done.” But that has changed, and reconciliation is now at the heart of the Democratic game plan. The current proposed path to passage involves the complicated two-step of the House passing the Senate’s health care bill — substantially different than the House bill and anathema to some Democratic representatives — then bringing the bill into line with President Obama’s compromise legislation via reconciliation.
So what is reconciliation? As explained by Hennessey it’s a
Two days ago, Hennessey wrote a post called Health care reform CPR, upping the probability of passage to 40%.
Can Speaker Pelosi bring health care reform back from the dead? Did it ever really die?
- Focus all your attention on Speaker Pelosi’s attempts to get 216 votes. If she can lock them down I think there’s a four in five chance there will be a law (or two).
- The Stupak/abortion issue appears to be the biggest substantive hurdle. Chatter about a possible three bill strategy (!?) to address this is stunning. Two bills isn’t hard enough?
- The sequencing/trust problem still appears hard. How does the Speaker get her members to vote for Bill #1 based only on a promise that Bill #2 will make it to the finish line?
- Occasionally a Congressional leader calls a vote without having the votes locked up, in the hope that the pressure of a floor vote will help close those last few remaining holdouts. This is incredibly risky. Sometimes there is no better option.
- Public signs of optimism from the President, his team, and Democratic Congressional leaders tell us little. We don’t know if they actually think they will have the votes, or if they are asserting that to try to make it true. Imagine the impact if Speaker Pelosi were to tell the press “We might not succeed.” Doing so would further embolden those marginal Members she is trying to convince to vote aye. They are telling us they think they will succeed, but they have to say this whether or not it’s true.
- The President’s chance of legislative success is way above the 10% I projected shortly after the Brown election when I declared a comprehensive bill dead. Was I wrong, or have things changed dramatically? A little of both, I think.
- I underestimated the willingness of the President and Democratic Congressional Leaders to press forward against extremely long odds. They appear to be doing serious medium-term political damage to their party. They appear to be placing in jeopardy a fairly large number of their Members, which could damage the rest of the President’s policy agenda. They are directly contradicting their stated strategy of focusing on the economy. You decide whether this is principled persistence, a confident smart strategy based on superior information, a different assessment of the voters and the polls, or a pathological obsession with killing the White Whale at any cost. Call me Ishmael.
- I also underestimated the Democratic party cohesion under tremendous political pressure. Assuming they think they are doing the right thing, they are doing so at tremendous cost to themselves. I can’t figure out if most rank-and-file Democrats agree with their leaders’ strategy or are just afraid to buck it.
- As of this posting, Intrade estimates about a 50% chance of success. That seems a little high. I’ll guess it’s a coin toss as to whether the Speaker can round up 216 votes for two bills, multiplied by an 80% chance that if she does they can overcome other hurdles to get two signed laws. That puts me at a 40% chance President Obama gets to declare victory, but with lots of uncertainty.
- To those who think the probability is higher, remember that they have been trying to rally these votes for six weeks and have not yet succeeded. Each time I hear rumblings of a new strategy, I conclude only that Congressional leaders have decided that the last new strategy won’t work. Even if the Speaker and her team are maximally effective they may fail. Sometimes the votes just aren’t there, and you don’t know that until you have tried every path and failed, or you have decided the clock has run out.
- If there is a path to 216 votes, I am confident the Speaker will find it. She has a remarkable ability to bend her colleagues to her will.
So there you have it, health care reform watchers. An opponent of the bill has upped his estimate of its passage from 10% to 40%, and that’s because he thinks some politicians are putting their own careers in jeopardy to do what they think is right.A man bites dog moment, if it’s true…