Monday, January 18, 2010

The New Republic: What Happens to Health Care Reform if GOP Takes Kennedy's Senate Seat

Jonathan Cohn, one of the best thinkers on health care reform on the liberal-progressive side, has an interesting post on about the possible options for the Obama Administration if, as may happen, Scott Brown beats Martha Coakley in Tuesday's special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.

Among other things, Cohn says:

That’s why a (slightly) preferred option, at least among those who I interviewed, was to have the House simply approve the Senate bill, as it was written.

Such a move could be quick; unless I’m mistaken, the House could hold such a vote this week. It would also be perfectly legitimate: When a chamber votes to pass a bill, as the Senate did when it passed health care reform on Christmas Eve, it’s effectively offering to make that bill a law, pending the other chamber’s approval. And that offer is good through the end of the Congress, even if the chamber’s membership changes.

Would House Democrats go along? It's hardly a given. Centrists, many of them as ambivalent about reform as their Senate counterparts, would be tempted to use Coakley’s defeat as an excuse for voting “no.” Liberals, meanwhile, would chafe at supporting a bill that includes so many unpleasant compromises.

But there are good substantive reasons why both sides should be willing to vote “yes.” And there are some good political reasons, as well.

For centrists, the substantive reason is that the Senate bill is, in most respects, closer to what they originally wanted anyway. Centrist Democrats skittish about the House bill typically complained that it was just too much--too much spending and too much regulation. But the Senate bill has less of both.

The Senate bill also has two key cost-control provisions, the tax on expensive benefits and the commission for calibrating Medicare payments, that many centrists have at least claimed to support. If they are truly concerned about cost control, as they claim, the Senate bill should address those concerns.
Watch for this maneuver. It may even be the best idea for health care reform after all.

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