Hey, House Dems: Don't Worry About the Patch

by Jonathan Bernstein

Greg Sargent has more great reporting about the GOP's latest plan to derail the health care bills.  Remember, the plan is Pass Then Patch: House votes on the Senate bill, then House votes on the relatively small reconciliation bill that makes relatively small changes, and then the Senate votes on the reconciliation patch.

The new plan is for the GOP to challenge lots of provisions in the patch as violations of the Byrd rule.  The hope, according to Sargent's reporting, is to force at least one change, which would then mean that they House would have to vote yet again.  The real plan, however, is to scare House Democrats into voting against the main (Senate-passed) bill, because the Dems are nervous about whether the Senate will leave them hanging once again.

The problem with the new plan is that the Democrats are not going to have any problem at all in passing the reconciliation bill: it's all ice cream, no spinach.  The "patch" part of Pass Then Patch is made up of repealing various deals that the GOP has been complaining about; trading in the (unpopular) Cadillac tax for a (popular) tax on rich people; the GOP ideas that Obama put in his letter to Ried and Pelosi this week; and a bunch of other relatively popular items.  If looked at as a stand-alone bill -- which it will be, at that point -- I'm guessing that well over 55 Senators will support it, and I would set a betting line at 58.  And take the over.  All the problems are with finding 217 (or whatever the number turns out to be) for the main bill.

The deeper problem with the new plan for the GOP is that as far as I can tell, the patch bill is being pretty carefully drafted to avoid Byrd rule problems.

The even deeper problem with the new plan for the GOP is that it puts them in a position of opposing repeal of the Nelson deal, the Florida deal, etc.  The one thing that I believe might be very vulnerable to a Byrd rule challenge is lifetime caps.  Does the GOP think that it can hold all 41 Republicans on that issue?  I don't.  Moreover, do they really want a vote on lifetime caps?

The yet even deeper problem with the new plan for the GOP is that if they do manage to stop the patch, then health care reform would still have passed.

Granted, none of that matters if the Democrats hear "Republicans have a plan" and hightail it for those hills were always hearing about.  As I read the coverage, however, the House Democrats are getting over their concerns about the Senate, and we're down now to the core issue of Democrats who want the bill to pass, but without their vote.  I don't see how this latest GOP tactic speaks to that situation.  Or at least, House Dems should be getting over their concerns about the Senate.  Yes, the Senate has double-crossed them before, many times, but this time the Senate has an easy vote remaining, not a hard one.