Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reform Rx – Upside-down Bipartisanship

In Maine we’ve seen the courting of Senator Olympia Snowe to obtain a bipartisan imprimatur on the Finance Committee mark yielding the negative result of a weakened bill devoid of a strong public option. Will the pursuit of bipartisanship now extend to the full Senate in an equally damaging manner?

We will soon find out as the Finance and HELP Committee efforts get combined and move in front of the full Senate. One obstacle that the press often points out as a supporting reason to pursue “bipartisan” course is the looming threat of a Republican filibuster. However, there is absolutely no such thing, it is a deceptive illusion.

A Republican filibuster is technically not feasible within the full Senate because the body is divided in such a way (60/40) that with a full roster it takes 41 votes to frustrate the advance of vital legislation. That’s 41 Republican votes, not 40; there are 40 Republican Senators. Lather, rinse, repeat…that’s 41 Republican votes, not 40; there are 40 Republican Senators.

The concluding vote math is easy; a filibuster in the current United States Senate must be bipartisan. At the very minimum a single member of the Democratic caucus must jump ship and support the use of a filibuster against her/his own fellow caucus. In this case it is not a trivial hop across the aisle from a divided caucus but a leap across a chasm containing a majority of the Senate supporting a public option.

In an October 19th New York Times piece we learn:

“There are 52 solid Democrats for the public option,” said Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the health committee. “Only about five Democrats oppose it. Should the 52 give in to the five? Or should the five go along with the vast majority of the Democratic caucus?”

The pursuit for a lone Republican to get a bipartisan stamp on a bill reported out of committee at 14 - 9 when 13 -10 or even 12 -11 might have advanced better legislation was pointless. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of reality TV show called the “Amazing Chase” to get a single Republican vote for health care reform. Citizens cannot be fooled this easily; bona fide bipartisanship obviously involves the contributions of larger groups when it can be achieved. We also understand that it is not possible this time because Republican Senators in any real numbers do not genuinely support meaningful health care reform in any way, shape, or form. Besides, they have their own reality TV show, “Extreme Fakeover”, in which a lone filibustering Democrat is lured into the Republican pack ready for reruns.

Any forthcoming filibuster threat will be as bipartisan as Olympia Snowe’s committee vote.

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