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Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca

Posted: January 20, 2010 06:42 PM

The Democrats Need to Find Some Spine and Pass This Bill

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In the 1998 midterms, Democrats actually gained seats. A rare thing for the president's party to pick up congressional seats in a second midterm election. Nevertheless, the Democrats won the day and Republicans lost a net five seats.

Take a guess how the Republicans responded. Naturally, they freaked out like infants and demanded that the party shift to the center, you know, where it's safe -- abandoning their congressional agenda in lieu of safe, small beans policy. Then they waited for all of the Democrats to be seated before they moved any votes to the floor. You know, just to be fair.

Wait, no. That's what the Democrats are doing in the aftermath of the Massachusetts special election.

The Republicans, in the days immediately after being "thumped" in the midterms, didn't make pee-pee in their big boy pants. They didn't freak out and reevaluate their agenda or crawl back to moderate Democrats for additional support.

The Republicans impeached the president.

Before anyone was sworn in, the Republican House of Representatives voted to impeach President William Jefferson Clinton on December 19, 1998.

Hey, Democrats. Do you like apples?

Now, I'm not suggesting that the Democrats should suddenly race around trying to quickly remove Republicans who have engaged in nefarious underpants parties. (I'm looking at you, John Ensign -- who voted for impeachment, by the way.)

I'm just suggesting that the Democrats find their mysteriously vanishing spines, and right quick.

While I'm fully aware that the Senate requires 60 votes for cloture, especially when the Republicans have opted to filibuster everything, there are other solutions. The Democrats still hold an 18 seat margin in the Senate. They hold a gigantic 78 seat margin in the House. They lost just one seat yesterday to an empty shirt who, for some reason, thought it would be awesome to auction off his daughters on live national television last night. Weird and creepy. Anyway.

And the legislation we're talking about passing here has nothing to do with removing a president from office because of something which, honestly, seems more like the marital rule these days rather than the exception. This bill is about providing affordable, life-saving health insurance to 30 million Americans and ending a cycle of abuse at the hands of a corporate cartel.

Instead, the Democrats plan is to wait until Scott Brown is seated and their 60 vote supermajority is gone, leaving them with one less option. They're waiting up. They're literally sliding an extra ace across the poker table to the sweaty, drunken degenerate on the other side. Here, we thought you might need some help, Biff. I'm sure you'll return the favor.

This, of course, is just plain dumb. If and when the tables are turned, don't count on the Republicans to return the favor. In 1998, they used a similar opening to impeach the president -- how can anyone seriously expect they'll behave differently in the future?

Nothing will ever motivate the Republicans to join with the Democrats in a spirit of bipartisanship. And, beyond Congress and in terms of swing, independent and Obama-Republican voters, they're either going to like or hate the health care reform bill. How it's passed isn't really going to matter at this point, especially after enduring the long, painful legislative push through the sausage casing.

But okay. The president and certain Democratic members of Congress want to wait until Pimpin' Scott Brown is seated. So be it.

Here's the only real way to pass a serious, stable health care reform bill at this point. You've probably heard this discussed today already, but Senate leadership and the White House ought to cut a deal with House leadership to pass the Senate bill as-is, then guarantee that House-friendly amendments reflecting the "conference" negotiations -- and maybe a public option -- will be passed via reconciliation and signed immediately following.

This way, the core legislation won't sunset or be shredded during a reconciliation proceeding. The basic bill will be stronger and more sustainable, while the extras will be subject to the dicey, potentially shoddy 50-vote simple majority. Still not great, but better than allowing the whole thing to be beaten all to hell and potentially abandoned down the road due to the Byrd sunset rule.

The bill passes, the House is satisfied, and the president's pledge to wait for Brown to be seated is honored.

That's the fair-minded and complicated solution. Here's what a stronger party would do, with both 30 million uninsured Americans in mind, not to mention its own political fortunes. They'd use the nuclear option. Roll back the threshold for cloture to 57 votes, or just kill the filibuster once and for all. The downside is some near-term political blowback, and Fox News will totally explode. But that might be fun to watch. However, the biggest of the caveats here is that the Democrats will surely be the minority party again and will definitely miss having the filibuster as a tool.

But not only would the nuclear option help to pass health care reform, but it could also help to pass finance regulatory reform, climate legislation and even things like a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask Don't Tell. No matter what anyone says, Republicans will not vote to repeal DOMA. And, despite their bullshit populist teabagger rhetoric, they won't vote for additional regulations against Wall Street.

Suffice to say, there won't be any nuclear option. But a party that cares about the agenda it sold to the American people -- an agenda which overwhelming majorities mandated in 2006 and 2008 -- would feel an obligation to pass that agenda through any legal, constitutional means possible. Or, you know, it could sit back and let that agenda, and health care reform with it, fail. A course of inaction that could lead to a Republican majority in November, and then, ironically enough, the inevitable congressional investigation and impeachment of the president.

Political weakness and unrequited accommodation, these days, only begs further, forced and irreparable political weakness.

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