The Senate Republicans’ strategy on health care reform right now is warning House Democrats that they will do anything to derail a set of reconciliation votes. All 41 Republicans have already signed a letter saying that they will vote against any waiver of the Byrd rule, and are clearly working through every possible route to slowdown or derail reconciliation. From Huffington Post:
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) admitted, during a press conference organized by health policy journal Health Affairs on Thursday, that his role now is to make skeptical House Democrats even more doubtful that the Senate can change the bill it passes using reconciliation. He insisted that tough votes on non-health care related topics are bound to come up, raised the specter that the reconciliation process will shut the Senate down, and even questioned whether the president can use reconciliation in the first place.
Asked by the Huffington Post if he was trying to stir uncertainty among Democrats, the New Hampshire Republican replied: “Absolutely. We are trying to open the eyes of our colleagues on the Democratic side who are being solicited with goodies that the boat into which all these goodies are being put may not ever come to dock.”
In theory, Republicans do have several tools at their disposal to ruin a reconciliation measure. They can raise repeated Byrd rule points of order, can filibuster the appointment of conference committee members, try to filibuster by endless amendments, force tough votes on poison pill amendments, etc.
In reality, though, none of these should be a real problem if fifty Senate Democrats plus Joe Biden are united in their determination to pass the bill, even if it means playing serious hardball. If Republicans try to filibuster by offering endless amendments, Biden could rule them dilatory. If Republicans try to tear apart the bill, or force it through an endless series of House-Senate ping-pongs, using numerous Byrd rule points of order, Biden can use his power as president of the Senate according to the strict interpretation of the rules of reconciliation to ignore the parliamentarian and rule against all points of order. If those two hardball tactics are not enough, Biden and fifty Democrats can pull out the big guns and use their power to create new precedent to deal with brand new forms of extreme obstructionism.
Gregg’s scare tactics on reconciliation are not based on whether Republican obstructionism could actually stop reconciliation against a determined majority.–it is really based on exploiting the fear that Senate Democrats lack the will and courage to play hardball to actually put an end to GOP shenanigans if they needed to. Of course, if you were a House Democrat watching Senate Democrats incredibly pathetic response to unprecedented Republican obstructionism, it would be hard to shake off Gregg’s warning.