Health Care: Done Deal?

by Jonathan Bernstein

I suspect that's too strong, but it sure looks as if this is really going to happen:

Item: Barack Obama has done just about everything he could do in the last few weeks to put his reputation on the line over passage of the bill.  Why would he do that unless he was pretty confident that it would get done?

Item: Over the last few days, it appears that the House has finally accepted that Pass, Then Patch is the logical way to do this: Steny Hoyer admitted as much over the weekend, and the leaked schedule (via Jonathan Cohn) calls for Pass on March 19, Patch in the House soon after, and Patch in the Senate beginning on March 26.

Item: Ten House Dems who voted against the bill the first time around are telling the AP (via Jonathan Chait) that they might vote yes this time around.  Chait is right about the incentives here as far as public statements are concerned.  I'd put it this way: there's an easily understandable story of going from no, to maybe, to yes...but it makes no sense at all to go from no, to maybe, to no.

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.

Now, they might not know which votes they have.  There's still a collective action problem, because for many marginal Democrats the best outcome may be that the bill passes, but that they vote against it. Pelosi, Rahm, and the rest need to sort all of that out.  There's still a lot of work to do...we still haven't seen the patch bill, and it hasn't been scored yet, and they still have to maneuver around reconciliation rules, especially on the Senate side (it shouldn't be hard -- remember, the patch bill is basically all ice cream, no spinach, and stopping it won't actually stop health care reform, since it will have already passed...still, it's the Senate).  But as I see it, at least based on the reporting, this is the closest they've been to getting to the finish line, even closer than they were in late December and early January.