The Senate procedure on the final Health Care vote

Wow– that's a very boring title for a post that is at least moderately interesting… I'm really curious as to whether there is truly a successful movement afoot to have Democratic Senate "moderates" (read, the not-so-smart ones who have no actual interest in crafting good policy), vote for cloture on the filibuster, but then vote "no" on the final health care bill.  Can you really get these ego-driven maniacs to vote to help pass legislation they actually oppose?  TNR's Jon Chait thinks so, and so does their unsigned editorial (maybe Chait wrote it.  Here he writes, in The Treatment blog:

Yesterday’s Roll Call has some details. Here’s what I think is the key passage:

As a fallback, Senate Democratic leaders have
stepped up their pressure on centrists to stick with the party on
procedural votes. At a minimum, leaders have asked all 60 Democrats to
allow them to bring a health care bill to the floor in order to make
sure Republicans cannot filibuster it.

Democratic Senate aides familiar with the
thinking of Conference moderates said centrists want to vote for a
health care reform bill — even one that is politically problematic —
because it appeals emotionally to their inner Democrat.

And here's the TNR Editorial:

To be fair, Nelson, Lincoln, and others do have constituencies that
express some seriously right-wing views. And, while polls sometimes
show that conservatives support reform, voters in these states may well
be skeptical. Perhaps what these senators need is a clever way out of
their political dilemma–a way to produce change without supporting
reform that is perceived as too liberal. Fortunately, the procedures of
the Senate allow for just such a convoluted arrangement. Obama and his
allies are focused on getting 60 votes because that's what it takes to
break a filibuster. But a senator can vote to break a filibuster
without voting for the bill being filibustered. Nelson and others can
simply support cloture and then vote "no" on the final bill (or merely
abstain). As long as Democrats have 50 "yes" votes–and they almost
surely do–the bill will pass.

This approach would let an important bill come to a full vote and
would allow a simple majority to pass the legislation. It's more
democratic than allowing a minority inflated by the over-representation
of small states to block the newly elected president's central domestic
policy promise. Surely that's enough legitimacy for
Nelson–particularly when it's also the right thing to do.

I'd love it if this were true, but I'm skeptical largely because my unnamed friend who works for one of the so-called Moderate Democrats is very skeptical of this proposition.  As he says, Senators don't vote for cloture on bills they oppose.  Maybe health care is different– I sure hope so.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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