Sudden Victory: People in the know in Washington appear to have already considered and dismissed the "ping pong" option --the possibility that if the Senate finally passes a compromise health care bill, Pelosi's House might simply vote "yes" on the exact same bill , avoiding the need for a "conference" to reconcile the House and Senate versions and instead sending the bill directly to the President for his signature. But from outside Washington, out here in the real America, this "ratification" route still looks awfully appealing--especially this week.
The conventional arguments against ratification are certainly powerful: "It would require House Democrats to shelve all of their ideas about health care and remove themselves from the process ..."
They couldn't stick in pet amendments. They'd lose the valuable posturing and Kabuki opportunities
that would be presented if they could go on record
voting for a House bill
pushing for House provisions that then didn't actually become law--or became law only in watered-down, symbolic form. (Senators would lose some of this flexibility too--they'd be stuck with whatever they voted for the first time, with no chance to pretend to be for something that then got dropped in conference.**)
But this isn't a conventional circumstance. This is a once in a lifetime chance for Democrats to guarantee health care for every citizen. Do the Dems want to coax a bill out of the Senate and then go through the same wrenching Lieberman/Nelson/Snowe drama again for the cloture vote on the House/Senate conference version? Why would they think there's any chance of getting it through a second time if the conference moves it to the "left"? (Recalcitrant Senate moderates would have built-in cover--they could say "I voted for a health care bill. I'm for reform. But what came back from the negotiation with the House was unacceptable.")
What if it's either "pass the Senate bill" or "pass nothing"? Are Pelosi and the Democrats really going to say "nothing"?*** Hard to believe. Certainly the "ratification" option seems much more credible than the convoluted "reconciliation" option heavily discussed on the left a couple of month ago. All the House Dems have to do is do it! (They still have party discipline on that side of the Capitol, no?) It's instant gratification. Pass the Senate Bill intact, word-for-word--wouldn't take long--and instantly they've won . Game over. a) Dems will have delivered. b) Obama's presidency will be pronounced a historic success.. ...
Then Democrats in both houses could, at their leisure, consider a second mop-up bill to modify what they'd just done--happily milking lobbyists for everything they've got for months, even years. But the default, the baseline, would be victory.
**--Of course, if this is the Democrats' strategy, they would be well-advised to pretend that it isn't, lest Senators realize that the bill they are voting for now is the one they are going to be stuck with (and for that reason get cold feet). And, sure enough, Pelosi is batting the idea down ! It's all going according to plan.
***-- Mandatory welfare reference point: I remember back in 1994, the idea of turning the welfare entitlement into a "block grant" was an obvious "non-starter" for many anti-welfare Democrats, who had a subtler form of reform in mind. But when the choice came down to "block grants or nothing," half the Democrats voted for the non-starter. 11:17 P.M.