The Senate Republicans' Coming Healthcare Reform Problem

Will they really oppose reconciliation?

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Senate Republicans have placed a big bet on the notion that they can scare wavering House Democrats into voting down the healthcare bill by promising to run any fixes off the Senate process rails. The idea is that House Democrats would be left holding politically toxic backroom deals like the so-called "Louisiana Purchase" and "Cornhusker Kickback." But as I argued last week Senate Republicans would be hard pressed to actually follow through on their threats, lest they become the defenders of these deals.

Politico has an article today outlining in some detail GOP plans to try to derail a healthcare reconciliation bill in the Senate. The GOP's willingness to talk to Politico for the piece and telegraph their legislative strategy seems to be part of what the publication calls "a pre-emptive strike meant to scare jittery House Democrats into withholding their support from" the Senate version of the healthcare bill.

As an aside, the opening of the Politico piece seems to betray some confusion about how the process works. "Democrats might like to think that health care reform is all but a done deal if it clears the House," the reporters write, "but the Senate is where Republicans have been plotting for months to sentence it to a painful, procedural death." Actually, if it clears the House, it goes to the president and shortly becomes the law of the land; what Republicans are threatening to kill is the companion bill fixing the controversial provisions.

But would Senate GOPers really follow through on their threat? As TPM's Josh Marshall writes today, this looks like a pretty big bluff.

Most of what senate Republicans say they're going to try to do is fight like crazy to keep the least popular parts of the original Senate package in the bill. That's right. They're going to go to the mat for the 'Cornhusker Kickback.' They're going to do everything they can to prevent the "Cornhusker Kickback" from being overturned. Same with the "Louisiana Purchase", the tax on "Cadillac" Health Care plans and a bunch of other stuff.

They're really going to push these issues just for the sake of saying no? Really? No, not really. As Marshall points out, some dares are worth taking.

Especially, as I noted last week, because the Republicans have tried so hard to conflate the overall health reform bill and the reconciliation bill, they've painted themselves into this corner: Either defend the provisions that they derided as sleazy and corrupt or put a bipartisan stamp on what they had said was the healthcare bill.

What will they actually do? Presumably the GOP won't actually challenge the well-known provisions. Instead they'll hope to change something that doesn't rise to the level of public consciousness but does drive a wedge between House and Senate Democrats. If they can cause a rift on such an issue they might be able to kill the fixes without leaving their fingerprints on it. But healthcare would still have passed.

And if Senate Democrats can hold together and stop any GOP attempts to break the fix, I'm betting that the reconciliation bill passes in that chamber with well over 60 votes.

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