I'm going to lay out a bold prediction: by hook and by crook, there will be a health care reform bill. There is no serious chance that a bill will not pass, not even if Scott Brown wins.
There are several ways this could occur: budget reconciliation, delaying Scott Brown's seating, and forcing the House to pass the Senate bill.
The method in this case, assuming Brown wins, will be the third one: force the House to pass the Senate bill.
I think this for a few key reasons.
- The whole of the President's political fortunes rest on passing this bill. They have spent 7 months on it, and the President's team are not going to let it die. Presidents, more than Congress, see their work in a historical context and in terms of what defines them and their term in office. Barack Obama's will be, for better or for worse, be animated by his passage of health care or will simply be Clinton part II: a lot of potential but very little results.
- The Democratic Party will not be electorally effective if a bill doesn't pass. A lot of you guys talk about how passing a bad bill would be for the base. Well imagine how it would look to the base, plus independents and moderates to see that we failed at our major, signature issue AGAIN. Horrible. Not even our most conservative members would disagree with that, I think. Either that or they'll switch parties.
- Rahm Emanuel was there to see the first failure of reform first hand. I strongly doubt that he will do anything less than everything he can, legal or not, to pass this bill. Like him or not, he has done a million favors for about 25%-30% of the Democratic caucus and has lots of chits to cash in. Most people who love their lives do not want to be on the wrong side of Rahm Emanuel.
- House Progressives will cave. The simple fact is they want a bill worse than anyone in the caucus. They want to improve the bill and make it better, but I think it's highly likely that, when literally faced with the choice of passing the Senate bill or getting nothing, they will pass the Senate bill. I think this because their goal, unlike many moderates, is to do the most good for the most people in the situation. Given that stark, binary choice of passage or failure, they will vote for passage.
- Moderates/conservatives will cave too. What I don't think a lot of people in the media understand is that many folks in the Dem caucus didn't vote for big bills because they didn't have to. They have 250 odd members and can afford to drop 40 and still pass big legislation. The leadership has been cutting them a break all this time, and don't think that they don't know that. As such we haven't even begun to see the array of inducements and threats that could be on the table if the stakes were high. My guess is that there is a list of members Pelosi has kept an eye on that have at some point promised to come through for her in exchange for not voting for something else.
This is not to say it won't be nerve-wracking if Scott Brown somehow manages to win, which I still think is less likely to happen than not. But they will pass this bill. The fortunes of the party and the President depend on it.
Come Tuesday, we might live in a post-MA Sen world, and that could realign incentives dramatically.