During Wednesday’s health care address, President Obama said that the American people deserve a final up-or-down vote on health care reform:
So, no matter which approach you favor, I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform.
We have debated this issue thoroughly, not just for the past year but for decades. Reform has already passed the House with a majority. It has already passed the Senate with a supermajority of 60 votes. And now it deserves the same kind of up or down vote that was cast on welfare reform, that was cast on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, that was used for COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and, by the way, for both Bush tax cuts — all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority.
It is hard to believe Obama actually feels that way, however, because that is not what he is really advocating.
The president is now pushing for the House Democrats to pass an unchanged Senate bill, with vague promises that some matter related to the budget would be fixed later by a majority vote in the Senate. It is pretty clear that House Democrats currently don’t have the votes to pass an unchanged Senate bill.
Of course, the House has already passed a health care reform bill, HR 3962, which everyone seems to have forgotten about, and technically doesn’t need to do another thing to see it become law. . . as long as the Senate passed that bill unchanged. If Obama really felt that health care reform deserved an up-or-down vote, he could ask Vice President Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and 48 Senate Democrats to use the “nuclear option” to change a few Senate rules regarding debate or budget reconciliation. After that, they could put the House health care bill on the floor, pass it unchanged with the constitutionally required simple majority, and Obama could sign it into law.
While I doubt this will happen, it is, technically, a wholly doable route to enacting health care reform. If Obama really believes health care reform deserves an up-or-down vote, he should be instructing Reid and Biden to use the tools at their disposal to actually give health care reform a final simple majority vote in the Senate.
If the House Democrats fail to get the votes to pass the unchanged Senate bill, expect a huge amount of blame to be directed solely at them for “killing health care reform.” But if/when that happens, it is important to remember that Senate Democrats deserve an equal or even greater amount of blame. If health care reform dies, it is also because 50 Senate Democrats decided that protecting the stupid byzantine rules of their chamber, which they are constantly complaining about, was more important than giving the House health care bill an up-or-down vote so that it could become law. If health care reform fails, remember that once again Democrats chose protecting Senate tradition over delivering on their promise.