Jonathan Chait

Health Care Pollyanna Update

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Jonathan Bernstein calls health care reform almost a done deal:

I should emphasize here that it is very, very rare for the majority to lose a high-stakes vote on final passage on the House floor.  You just don't bring a bill to the floor unless you know you're going to win.  I can't imagine a reason that Nancy Pelosi and the White House would bring this to the floor knowing that they were going to lose, for some sort of spin advantage.  They either know that they have the votes, or it's the biggest bluff in who knows how long.  Keep watching: does the president really announce the schedule tomorrow that was leaked today?  Does the Speaker really keep to that schedule, or do leaks start appearing about pushing it back a few days?  I don't think so, however.  I think they have the votes.

I may be a health care Pollyanna, but I'm not quite this optimistic. You're still talking about the Democratic Party. Some small thing could go wrong and make them all start panicking again. Even if everything goes right, it's going to be a tight vote, the votes aren't there, and the party might not be organized or cohesive enough to overcome its collective action problem (every member has a strong interest in reform passing, but they can't figure out which members switch from No to Yes to allow that to happen.)

That said, I agree with Bernstein that things are looking pretty good. I've been holding at about a 60% chance of passage since Scott Brown won his Senate seat. The key is, and always has been, to look at the incentive structure, and not get too caught up in the daily dramas. (That's why Bernstein, a political scientist, has been able to offer a much more accurate analysis than the reporters who have been calling reform dead for weeks.)

It's also noteworthy that Democrats are starting to recognize and state openly their collective interest in passing a bill. Here's Evan Bayh, quoted in The Hill:

"That is the bet, that some of the misconceptions out there will be proven to be false between now and the election," Bayh said during an appearance on the "Charlie Rose Show" when asked if the Obama administration was expecting healthcare's popularity to turn around.

"I think they are betting the myths will be dispelled, and it's better to look strong and effective than it is to look weak and ineffectual," Bayh added. "I think that's another part of the calculus there."

Here's another Hill story about some other centrist Democrats:

There’s growing evidence that centrist Democrats who were initially leery of supporting healthcare reform have come around to the political necessity of passing it soon.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) signaled Monday that he is ready to support the home-stretch effort to get a bill to President Obama.

“Doing nothing on healthcare reform might seem like a reasonable option to some, but in my opinion it’s not,” Nelson said at a conference hosted by the Federation of American Hospitals.

Centrist Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) also indicated he could be open to using reconciliation to get healthcare reform over the finish line, if that’s the only option.

The fact that Senators are voicing support is not really the issue -- Democrats will have no trouble at all getting 50 Senators to vote for a reconciliation sidecar bill. The important development is that centrist Democrats recognize the political imperative of passing a bill and are endorsing it openly. This ought to bode well for bringing aboard centrists in the House.

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