The Coming Trigger War

Mike Lux is right, courting of Olympia Snowe’s support for health care legislation by the White House has the potential of starting a war within the Democratic Party over what reform will look like and who has the power to determine it. If Snowe comes at the cost of a trigger for the public health insurance option — constructed to be so weak that it will likely never be triggered — then it will surely cost liberal votes in both the Senate and the House. It will effectively put the Democrats in Congress in a position that pits their ideology against the President. This is an awful place to be, but more importantly it is an avoidable place to be.

What would instead make more sense would be for the White House to make the cloture vote in the Senate on whatever legislation comes to the floor a party line vote that will be scored by leadership. That is, if you don’t vote in favor of ending debate and getting the legislation to a majority wins situation, you will raise the ire of the White House, the Senate leadership, and the DSCC. In this way, it doesn’t matter how Olympia Snowe will vote – because the 60 members of the Democratic caucus will be sufficient to pass cloture and get to a simple majority-rules vote. On final passage, the White House will signal that members can take a walk if they don’t like the bill.

So much media attention has been given to needing 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate. But this just isn’t true. 60 votes are needed to overcome the Republicans’ filibuster – a procedural vote that does not necessarily relate at all to the content of the legislation. To wit, we’ve seen the GOP walk away from  provisions they have previously supported with the sole principle involved being “Delay, delay, delay.”

If the White House demands it and if Harry Reid demands it, the cloture vote on health care legislation can be a party-line vote. Rather than moving to 51 votes to pass something under reconciliation, this would allow 51 votes to pass something under normal rules. A public option would be possible, as would any other provision. And Olympia Snowe would not be in a position to divide the Democratic Party.

It’s really a question of leadership. Will Snowe be the fulcrum that the Democratic Party is broken in two on? Or will President Obama show some muscle and demand support from the Senate to simply get to a majority vote? We shall see.

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