Are Republicans Trash Talking Into a Healthcare Reform Trap?

Beware adversaries bearing gifts.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Republican leaders' concern for centrist House Democrats is really rather touching. But it may for a couple of reasons be self-defeating. Blue Dogs and other fiscally focused House Democrats wrestle with the issue of whether to vote for the Senate's version of healthcare reform--which has provisions they don't like--on the promise that the Senate will then pass a bill fixing said problems. One issue: House Democrats simply don't know if they can rely on their upper chamber brethren to follow through and pass whatever changes are agreed upon. Now come House and Senate Republican leaders with helpful advice for wavering Democrats: Don't trust the Senate, they'll hang you out to dry.

This is a concerted GOP strategy. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell's on board, as is Lamar Alexander. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl were even nice enough to take the time to put together a five page memo outlining the various ways that Senate Democrats could "put nervous House Democrats in a position of being 'BTU'd' which is Washington-speak for a scenario where House members vote on an unpopular issue that the Senate refuses to take up, resulting in a significant loss of House seats in the following election." As Politico sums up: "GOP plan: Play on Blue Dogs' nerves."

Oh how clever are the Republicans. Perhaps too clever? Senate Republicans aren't telling wavering Democrats anything they don't already know. But their utter lack of subtlety could backfire as they give Democratic leaders another argument: Are you going to play into the Republicans' hands and dance to their tune? Crass partisanship from the GOP--as much as sweet uncle Mitch and nice cousin Eric must have Democrats' best interests at heart--might well help stiffen Democratic resolve.

And then there's the corner into which Republicans have painted themselves regarding the fix-it bill, which would be passed through both Houses under reconciliation rules, meaning only 51 votes are required to pass it in the Senate. Will the GOP really oppose it?

The Cantor-Kyl memo lays out all of the unpopular provisions in the Senate bill--the "Cornhusker Kickback," the "Louisiana Purchase" and so forth. But if the overall healthcare bill has passed (an apparently necessary precondition for considering reconciliation legislation to fix it), will Republicans really cast votes against fixing some of its best known problems? And while the GOP promises that Obama's new proposed insurance regulations would be knocked out of reconciliation (not being related to taxing or spending), do they really want to take the vote defending the insurance industry from regulations designed to minimize the kind of enormous rate hikes Americans have experienced in recent weeks?

Not that Republicans have much choice: They have made reconciliation out to be the end of democracy itself. And having equated a fix-it reconciliation bill with the overall health package, they can't exactly vote for it in the end.

Will we see Republicans voting in lock-step to save the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, and the right of insurance companies to raise rates ad infinitum? Stay tuned.

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