Doing the radio show on health care reform this morning gave me another opportunity to reflect on the relationship between legislative practice and voter perception. The House Democratic leadership is closing in on using the budget reconciliation process and a self-executing deem and pass rule to get a health care reform bill to President Obama’s desk, and a package of legislative fixes back to the Senate for approval. I can’t help but think that all of this parliamentary wrangling will be seen by voters, many of whom are actually paying close attention to this episode, as a semantic distinction without a difference.
I understand why some Democratic Members of Congress might not want to vote for a Senate bill that they clearly dislike, but I don’t know that in practice the tactic will buy them much electoral goodwill for being able to say they voted to fix the Senate bill without actually passing it, when the self-executing rule would essentially pass it anyway. As one of the other guests on the show, Patrick Hynes, noted, the negative attack ads will be written the same way in the fall, regardless of whether reform happens through the use of a clever House rule or with a straight vote on the actual bill. I think that is likely to be the case.
If Democrats in the House are genuinely behind the president on health care reform, then they should not be afraid to look like it. I can only speak anecdotally, but I’ve talked to a number of Democratic voters over the past week, and virtually all of them said that this whole legislative endgame is making Congressional Democrats look weak. Maybe the stunning reality of a victory for reform (however it is ultimately achieved) will erase that perception for many voters, but as the months have dragged on and on, I’m just not sure.
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