05/25/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Republicans Cave on Majority Vote for Health Care and Waste Senate Time Instead

The Senate was set to vote last night on whether or not a minority of Senators could block health care reform using a process called budget reconciliation.

The way it was supposed to work was this: Republicans were going to offer an amendment to tell the Senators negotiating a deal on the budget with the House not to use reconciliation for health care, just like they offered similar amendments around global warming. The vote was going to be a referendum on reconciliation - if it passed, the Senate would have clearly stated that it wants to allow a minority to filibuster health care reform. If it failed, the Senate would be declaring its intention to allow health reform to move forward on a simple majority vote.

This vote was supposed to happen late last night, but Republicans caved.

They caved under intense grassroots pressure from progressives across the country, with groups like Health Care for America Now,, and the Rebuild and Renew America coalition asking their supporters to make thousands of calls to the Senate. As a result, the amendment was never offered because the GOP knew they didn't have the votes to pass it.

Instead of letting the Senate vote on whether a minority of Senators should be allowed to block health care reform, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who"s received over $1.4 million in donations from the health care industry, dodged the question and wasted the Senate's time by offering a pointless amendment opposing "socialized medicine." Here is what the DeMint amendment called for:
  1. Preserve the ability of Americans to keep their health plan;
  2. Preserve their choice of doctor, and;
  3. Prevent them from being shifted from private health insurance into government-managed and government-rationed health care.
Of course, all of this rhetoric is meaningless after you realize that every health care plan being proposed offers people a choice between keeping the health insurance they have or choosing a new public health insurance option. Choice of doctor and health plan would be preserved, and nobody would be shifted to any health care plan against their will.

Despite DeMint's time wasting, the House and the Senate have reportedly announced a deal on the budget that includes reconciliation for health care, under intense pressure from Senate leadership and the White House [via CQ, no link, though Washington Post is now reporting the same deal]:

The inclusion of reconciliation instructions for the health care and student loan initiatives will be a sore spot for Republicans. The fast-track procedure will make the resulting bills immune to filibuster in the Senate, significantly reducing the GOP's leverage.

Democrats contend they only want to use reconciliation as a fallback option and would prefer to move health care through the regular order. Republicans are highly skeptical the fast-track process won't be used if available.

Republicans are threatening to shut down the Senate if reconciliation is used, though yesterday, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) undercut the entire GOP argument that reconciliation is unfair, saying Democrats have a "right" to use reconciliation for health care because Democrats won the election.

It all comes down to this: Because of grassroots pressure, Republicans didn't have the votes to block reconciliation for health care. Republicans are threatening procedural war, but it looks very likely that a minority of Senators will not be able to block health care reform this time. And so the GOP has a choice: They can work with Democrats in good faith (something they have declined to do so far), or they can be ignored as Democrats pass the health reform this country so desperately needs with a simple majority vote in the Senate.

Either way, progressives won a victory last night, and we're one step closer to winning quality, affordable health care for all.