The Real Fight On Healthcare Reform Hasn't Even Begun

[ Posted Thursday, July 30th, 2009 – 16:33 UTC ]

For a while now, I've been using the metaphor of a baseball game to describe the progress of healthcare reform legislation trundling its way through Congress. And I have to caution everyone, we are still in the middle innings of this "game" (no disrespect intended, I know it's a serious subject -- I'm just talking metaphorically here) Which means that, no matter what the bills look like when they come out of the recalcitrant House and Senate committees, there will still be a lot of fighting before this is all over. I say this not to discourage healthcare reform advocates, but to keep everyone focused on how far we have to go.

When the remaining House committee and the remaining Senate committee finally vote a bill out, this will not be the end of the horse-trading, not by a very long shot. So don't get too happy (or too disappointed) with whatever end product they come up with. Because there are still many hurdles to overcome before President Obama can have that signing ceremony with Senator Ted Kennedy at his side that they've all been working towards.

The first two of these hurdles (or four, depending on how you count) is getting a bill actually passed by the entire House and Senate. But before this can happen, some more horse-trading is going to take place. Even though most of Congress will be on vacation for more than a month in August, there will reportedly be a committee in the House and one in the Senate who will be working out the differences in the various bills which have come out (and have yet to come out) of the committees.

In the House, there will be two bills to blend. The bill that has already been passed by two of the committees, and the one we're still waiting on from Representative Waxman's committee. The most interesting thing (to serious political wonks) will be the makeup of the conference committee to hash out the differences between the two. The number of Blue Dogs on this conference committee may be crucial, as is the commitment of Democrats on the committee opposing them. The story is the same over in the Senate, where one bill has passed and one is still not done yet, where a conference committee will have to work out the differences between the two.

This will be the real struggle within the Democratic Party, and it will begin in August. Blue Dogs and Progressives will each stake out their ground, and some sort of legislation will (hopefully) emerge from the fray. Both will be touting whip counts ("we have X members who will vote for/against this or that suggested compromise" will be the back-and-forth story in the media), until some bill emerges that has the votes to pass the chamber as a whole. Then it actually has to pass each full house, when they get back in September.

But even at this point -- around the seventh-inning stretch, in my baseball metaphor -- there will still be a gigantic battle ahead. Because at this point, it becomes not just Democrat-versus-Democrat, it becomes Senate-versus-House (a perennial fault line of power in Washington). And the process will start all over again, with the naming of a "reconciliation" committee comprised of House members and senators, who will do the most fierce horse-trading yet. The membership of this committee is going to be absolutely key to whatever emerges, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as the membership for this committee is announced. And the bar gets higher at this point, because whatever emerges will have to be palatable enough to pass both the House and the Senate, instead of just a single chamber. This last-minute bargaining will be agonizingly fierce, that's about the only guarantee anyone can make at this point.

If -- because "when" is a bit optimistic, right now -- a bill makes it past this point, then it will have to get through both houses' votes before that big signing ceremony can take place. And even this may require either every Democrat in the Senate to oppose an expected Republican filibuster attempt, or else it may require Harry Reid to ram it through using Senate rules that do not allow filibustering it (which was teed up earlier this year, so it remains a possibility).

I am not reviewing the remaining obstacles in order to rain on anyone's parade, I should point out. All bills go through this process. The process has so many points where it can fail completely that it can take weeks, months, years, and even decades sometimes. But even that gloomy reality has a silver lining of hope within it.

Because while the seriously wonky have been agonizing over the battles which are happening right now within the remaining committees, people need to realize that nothing the committees do will be written in stone. No matter where you are on the healthcare reform issue, this should bring a bit of hope to you. Because while the media will trumpet to the skies whatever compromises are made at this point to get something out of the last two committees, they most definitely are not the last word on the subject. Things which get left out have a chance (two chances, actually) to be reinserted in the bill. Conversely, things which are agreed to now will have the same chances to be yanked back out.

So take a deep breath, go get a beer and a hotdog, and sit back and enjoy the rest of the game. Because we're only in about the fourth or fifth inning so far. It won't be over until it's over. And whether the bottom of the fifth is a good at-bat for your team or not -- no matter what the scoreboard says after this inning is done -- this game still has a good while yet to run.


-- Chris Weigant


2 Comments on “The Real Fight On Healthcare Reform Hasn't Even Begun”

  1. [1] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    You read my mind for the title of this post. I'm tapping out an "order of battle" for the months ahead.

    The whole thing really comes down to the Blue Dogs, doesn't it? But even they are divided between the "Blue Cross" Democrats and the ones who just have conservative credentials.

    It's gonna be a sausage factory in September!

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    It's truly amazing that ANYTHING ever gets done by this country's government...


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