Barney Frank, who last night dealt what I described as a potential death blow to Obamacare, today backed away from his statement as overly pessimistic. Tonight, he told Talking Points Memo that he could vote for the Senate bill as is, as long as he would receive assurances that the problems with the bill would be fixed in a separate bill using the nuclear option of reconciliation, which would require only a simple majority in the Senate.
Last night, Frank said that trying to pass health care legislation with less than 60 votes would be inappropriate, because it would be changing the rules in the middle of the process:
"Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the Senate rule which means that 59 votes are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of the process.”
But today, he outlined a different strategy that would employ the nuclear option in the Senate:
"You have to pass the Senate bill as is and the President signs it. Then people have to be assured that you can get the amendments through the House and the Senate," Frank said. "Because then the argument would be, 'Look, the bills already passed so now the question is whether you're willing to amend it or not.'"
One way to do that would be through the filibuster proof budget reconciliation process. "The alternative would be, people are talking about using reconciliation: 51 votes to get the agreed on amendments in the Senate."
So in less than 24 hours, he did a total reversal.
Frank still recognizes that it may be difficult to get the Senate bill passed in the House, but he seemed to suggest that last night his bigger fear was that Democrats would try to delay the seating of Brown:
"A bill being passed [is in Democrats' best interest]--as long as it's being done in a way that's invulnerable to charges that it was jammed through, or the rules were disregarded. That's what I was afraid of was a disregard for the procedural rules: Bending the Byrd rule out of shape, or doing something with Paul Kirk's vote while awaiting certification--those things would be fatal."
I'm not sure how Frank thinks that Democrats would be immune to charges that health care was rammed through if the House passes the Senate bill with the assurance that Senate Democrats would subvert the 60-vote rule and use the reconciliation process to iron out differences. That's especially true given that the reconciliation bill would be rammed through to preserve the backroom deal negotiated to create a special "carve out" for unions on the "Cadillac tax." Forget right or wrong. If Democrats think that the politically astute response to the Massachusetts election results is to pass health care using the highly partisan reconciliation procedure to preserve the bribe to their favored special interest, they are utterly delusional.
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