An interesting political dynamic is developing in the Democratic party. In a crucible of the so-called ‘big tent’ of the Democrat Party, fissures are starting to appear.
First, let us give Harry Reid some credit. For once, his base incompetence was overcome. To get 60 votes by bribing, arm twisting, and begging is what majority leaders do…and this time, he was successful.
But it comes at a high long term cost.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (LA) need a $300 million payoff by Medicare and other subsidies for Louisiana. That may serve her well in the short term, but long term people will remember that the taxes on Louisiana itself in this bill will cost them billions.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (AR) finally showed her stripes. Not only did she vote for cloture; she also (partially)affirmed her support for the much hated public option. This will certainly make it to numerous political ads next year.
Sen. Ben Nelson (NE), who is not up for election, could probably safely vote this way, since people will likely forget about this by 2012.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT) is at no risk politically, and did this to placate the already irate leftists among his supporters.
But the fault lines are developing. These moderates cannot vote for the public option in its current form, without taking a huge political risk to their already suspect future political prospects for next year. Liberals such as Chuck Schumer and Tom Carper are hoping to come to some compromise on the public option with the moderates.
However, liberals are not so willing. “Absolutely not,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, one of the more liberal members of the Democratic Caucus, when asked if he was open to further discussion of the public option. “We’ve compromised four times now. Four members of the Senate aren’t going to tell the other 55 what to do on these issues.”
Even if Reid can assuage the moderates in his caucus by pulling his bill to the right without losing liberal support, he’ll face bruising negotiations with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is intent on keeping intact major provisions of her far more left-leaning bill. Pelosi’s version of the public option, for instance, is far more open-ended than Reid’s.
Both Lieberman and Nelson have already said they’d join a filibuster of the current bill and both have raised objections to the public option.
Then there is the abortion issue. Liberals are already trying to overturn the strict Stupak amendment in the House. Stupak has drawn the line in the sand, saying that he and his 40 or so supporters in the House could not accept any revisions to that amendment. The liberals, on the other hand, have also promised that they cannot accept the amendment as is. I have no idea, assuming both sides are being completely honest, how you resolve that. Obama was hoping to avoid the issue all together, but with Pro-Life activists, along with Catholic Bishops, mobilizing, this issue is not going to go away.
The final pivotal issue is cost. Democrats are playing games with the numbers, and that is making their position even more untenable. Harry Reid’s version of the bill was scored by the CBO as costing around $900 billion over 10 years, and even saving the budget approximately $100 billion. But of course, that was assuming that Medicare would be cut by half a trillion dollars (something that is not clear will be done under this bill, but is simply promised). Along with the $300 billion dollar Medicare ‘Doctor fix’ that must happen, that pushes the real cost of the health care reform to over $1.4 trillion…and that is being conservative.
There are real tangible fissure lines in the Democratic party. This is not going to be decided by Tea Partiers, by the Republicans, or anyone on the right. This is purely a Democratic civil war. We will now see if the Democrats truly have a big tent. Can they accept the harshest restrictions on abortion in a generation? Can they accept huge increases to the deficit? It will take a deft hand to solve these problems, and so far the Democratic leadership has shown no such ability.
UDPATE: Below is the Saturday Night Live skit from Saturday, which I could not let pass without posting, because it is ‘Must See TV’. Who at NBC is going to be fired for this? And will CNN fact check it like last times?