Democrats Reid, Pelosi ponder crafting Obama's final healthcare bill behind closed doors
Since it's basically one-party rule in Washington nowadays, Democratic leaders including Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are seriously considering pushing President Obama's beloved healthcare legislation through Congress without the normal conference committee work involving both party's members from both houses.
Such a select conference committee is normally charged with reconciling differing House and Senate bills on the same issue before final votes in each house on the compromise version.
But since American voters collectively wanted so much change so badly in 2008, they handed over the White House, House of Representatives and Senate to Democrats with such lopsided majorities that, much as in Chicago, the ruling party doesn't really need any Republican help driving the differing bills through a blender to produce a final version, possibly by early February.
Congressional Democrats will meet with Obama at the White House this evening to discuss the....
...strategy, some in person, some via videoconferencing. House Democrats will caucus Thursday to discuss a final decision on strategy for when they reconvene next week.
As our colleague James Oliphant reports, such a beeline has some advantages for Democrats. While they don't need Republican help, they also don't need the GOP's avowed obstructionism. Simply choosing conference committee members offers numerous opportunities for long procedural delays in a democracy.
And the president has stressed healthcare urgency for months; remember, he wanted all this done by the first week of August last year because he saw poll support dropping and wanted to avoid entanglement with the 2010 elections.
But here we are in 2010. And there are the elections just 305 days away.
A new Rassmussen Reports poll out Monday finds that a majority of Americans believe the new plans will hurt healthcare quality, 59% figure it will actually increase healthcare costs, 57% oppose the bills' intent to cut Medicare benefits by hundreds of billions of dollars and, for some reason, 78% of Americans suspect the Obama administration cost estimates are way under the actual expenses.
Democrats simply ramming the immense measure through, however, might look heavy-handed to some moderate Americans, while having one party's leadership secretly craft the final bill behind closed doors fits more with a policy of official opacity than oft-promised transparency.
With no Republican crossing the aisle in favor of Obama's healthcare -- indeed, one Democrat House member changed parties over the bill last month -- the partisan lines are clearly drawn for the opening of the midterm election campaigns.
With no political cover offered by defecting Republicans, Democrats Reid and Pelosi are counting on some kind of healthcare legislation, even without a government plan, bringing out party loyalists on Nov. 2.
This despite the experience last November when with Obama's name on no ballot, the loyalists stayed home sufficiently to deliver to Republicans the governors' offices in Virginia and New Jersey.
And despite some very vocal intra-party opposition gathering behind snubbed former party chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, and influential left websites like firedoglake.com.
The GOP, on the other hand, will seek to tie every Democrat candidate everywhere to the hopey-changey guy in the White House, much as Democrats successfully associated many Republicans with the unpopular presidency of George W. Bush in 2008. The GOP might even mention the stubbornly high unemployment rate despite all of Joe Biden's revitalization talking.
Republicans are counting on the sheer scale of the healthcare bill, its immediate costs, delayed benefits, accompanying Medicare cuts and new taxes to emerge in coming months and drive to their side not only the GOP base of worried fiscal conservatives but crucial independents who thought they were voting for a moderate Obama in 2008.
If that happens, 2010's change to believe in would be over on the right, not the left.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photos: Associated Press