Not-Quite Nuking 56% Of Americans

Putting two news blurbs side-by-side this afternoon makes for an interesting observation. First, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) says that if Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts Senate seat, Democrats will consider using the so-called "nuclear option" an unusual, but not quite "nuclear" option called "reconciliation" to push through health care legislation. That would allow them to do so even without 60 votes. Meanwhile, a new Rasmussen poll indicates that Americans' support of the health care bill is reaching new lows. Now only 38% of Americans favor it, while 56% are opposed. Are Democrats smart to take this route?

Here's how Fox News reporting on what Durbin sees as possibilities:

First, he said the House could simply approve the Senate bill, sending it straight to President Obama's desk.

Then, Durbin said, the Senate could make changes to the bill by using the nuclear option, known formally as "reconciliation," a tactic that would allow Democrats to adjust parts of health care reform with just a 51-vote majority.

"We could go to something called 'reconciliation', which is in the weeds procedurally, but would allow us to modify that health care bill by a different process that doesn't require 60 votes, only a majority," Durbin said. "So that is one possibility there."

Thus far, Democrats have stayed away from invoking the nuclear option. [And they would be here too. Despite what Fox News says, this isn't actually the "nuclear" option as the article implies. See note below.] With 60 votes, they hadn't really needed it. But if faced with the loss of their 60th seat in Massachusetts, they will no longer have the luxury of a filibuster proof majority. Desperate times may call for desperate measures.

But is this wise? As mentioned, the most recent Rasmussen poll indicates that support for Congress' health care bill is at its lowest level yet. Do Democrats really want to alienate 56% of Americans and please just 38%? The poll further finds that 44% are strongly opposed to health care reform, while only 18% strongly favor it. Even Ross Perot got more strong support than that -- 19% of the popular vote -- in the 1992 presidential election.

Democrats would be using an extreme option to push through very unpopular legislation. I'm not a political strategist, but common sense dictations this to be pretty ill-advised. In liberal circles, there's a feeling that, once Americans see how great health care reform turns out to be, they'll change their mind. Yet, the benefits aren't likely to kick in for several years, while the health care fund is built up. So even if they're right that Americans end up liking the new health care framework ultimately, many Democrats in Congress may be out of work by then.

Democrats really appear to be in a lose-lose situation if Brown wins Massachusetts. If they push through health care reform with fewer than 60 votes, a strong majority of Americans will not be amused. Meanwhile, if they give up, then it would mark a huge defeat for the President and Democrats in Congress, and Republicans would celebrate. I wonder, though, if winning this battle would cause Democrats to ultimately lose a larger political war.

*Note: Sorry I got the terminology wrong -- or more believed Fox News had got it right. Thanks to DaveInCalif for pointing that out. Reconciliation is not the same as the nuclear option. More here, if you are interested in details. Although not the nuclear option, reconciliation is also a rarely used procedural measure to avoid filibuster, so the rest of the logic in this post still works.