One Simple Agenda

Grace-Marie Turner


Let's cut to the heart of the matter: First, let's start by setting aside the extraordinary complexity of thousands of pages of health reform legislation. Next, let's throw out the labyrinth of details about the Senate reconciliation process. Not important.
Only one thing matters. And that is convincing the House to pass the Senate bill. Everything else is a side show at best.
If the House passes the Senate bill in a straight up or down vote -- "a simple majority," to quote the president -- ObamaCare becomes the law of the land. Nothing else matters.
The president wants the House to act by March 18, promising that problems would be fixed in subsequent legislation.
But if the House passes the Senate bill, then President Obama would be able to sign comprehensive health reform in the form of the Senate bill the next day, and the job is done. Any promises that it would be fixed after that aren't worth the paper they might, or might not, be written on.
The White House is desperately trying to find every vote possible to get to the current majority number of 216 votes in the House to pass ObamaCare. The president cleared his schedule this afternoon for marathon meetings with House members.
Rep. Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, said on ABC this morning that he and 11 colleagues who voted for the earlier version of the House bill will vote "no" this time if abortion language isn't changed from the Senate version.
"Let's face it, I want to see health care," Stupak said. "But we're not going to bypass some principles and beliefs that we feel strongly about."
But they and others are being told that if they want health reform, they have to take the first vote so the leadership has a bill to fix.
The package of fixes being negotiated between the House and the Senate is a distraction at best.
Once House members take the vote on the Senate bill, they have absolutely no control over what the Senate does next. The Senate may or may not be able to get a second bill passed to address concerns of the House.
And that means House Democrats will be on the hook this fall for a vote for:
  • The Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, and every other vote-buying deal buried in the Senate bill.
  • Abortion language that clearly allows federal funding for abortion and which the U.S. Conference of Bishops solidly opposes.
  • The Cadillac tax on high-cost health insurance policies that labor unions hate.
Weak enforcement provisions for the individual mandate that health insurers say will cause pools to disintegrate, causing premiums to skyrocket for those still buying policies.
And that's just for starters.
It would be the dupe of all time if House members were to be convinced that they must go first to keep the process moving forward, only to find that ObamaCare passes the finish line in the form of the Senate bill.
It will be interesting to watch them this fall trying to explain to constituents, who already have told them in no uncertain terms that they hate this legislation, that they were promised that they would have a second chance to take a vote to fix it.
In this game, there will be no second chances.

Grace-Marie Turner is President of the Galen Institute
Copyright 2010 Galen Institute. All Rights Reserved.

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