The Tide Is Turning On Health Care Reform

It looks like momentum is back on the side of health care reform.

First, opposition to the public option among Blue Dog Democrats is fading:

Blocking a public health insurance option is a relatively low priority for conservative Blue Dog Democrats, according to an ongoing survey of its members. The fading House opposition could clear the way for the public option to move through the chamber.

The Blue Dogs have been surveying their membership over the last several days; coalition co-chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) has been collecting the responses. She listed the four top priorities that have emerged: Keeping the cost under $900 billion, not moving at a faster pace than the Senate, getting a 20-year cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office and addressing regional disparities in Medicare reimbursement rates.

[Emphasis mine]

Second, the Senate Finance Committee–home to the foot-dragging Baucus Caucus–will debate the public option, starting today.

And, most heartening of all, the Democratic leadership is finally playing some much-needed hardball–they’re pushing Democrats to vote for cloture even if they plan on voting against the final bill:

Senate Democratic leaders are launching a renewed effort to get all 60 members of their caucus — even those who might eventually vote against health care legislation — to at least commit to blocking a Republican filibuster.

After that, the bill itself could win passage with only a simple majority.

Proponents of the strategy say it is being actively discussed both on Capitol Hill and within the White House — “every day,” said one Democrat who is actively involved with both branches when it comes to passing health care legislation. “That’s the whole conversation. At the end of the day we don’t need them to vote for the bill. We need to get them to get to cloture to end the debate.”

As former DNC Chair Howard Dean summarized: “If you are a member of the Democratic Party you have an obligation… to vote with the party on procedural issue. I would expect that regardless of what Senators think they about the public option, they should be there for cloture.”

[Emphasis mine]

That’s along the lines of something I wrote back on July 11th:

Cloture is a procedural vote, nothing more–it signals that a Senator believes that there has been sufficient debate on a piece of legislation and that it’s time to bring it up for a floor vote.  Voting for cloture is not an indication of support for the final bill, nor should it be seen that way.

All too often, though, cloture votes are used as proxies for whether or not a Senator supports a particular bill.  That’s problematic because it sets an unusually-high 60-vote bar for the passage of legislation, instead of the standard 51-vote bar. That isn’t how the Senate is supposed to operate–it was designed so that a simple majority could pass legislation.

I’m not advocating the elimination of the filibuster, but I want the Democratic leadership to put their foot down on cloture–they need to start getting their caucus to vote for cloture on major legislation regardless of whether or not individual Senators plan to vote for or against the legislation. There is nothing intellectually inconsistent with voting for cloture but against final passage; there is nothing wrong saying that no more debate is needed on a bill but that you don’t plan on voting for it.

No Democrat should vote uphold a Republican filibuster.  Voting against legislation is one thing; helping the Party of No block important reform is completely different.

But opposition is weakening. The public option is getting some serious consideration. And the Democratic leadership–realizing just how much is at stake here–is pushing hard to break the GOP filibuster and get health care reform to a vote.

All of this is good news for any American who isn’t in the pocket of the health industrial complex.