Today’s top headline, without a doubt, is the 60-39 U.S. Senate vote, strictly along party lines, to override a Republican attempt to filibuster and thus block a health care bill.
The vote means that the full Senate now will debate the $848-billion proposal, consider amendments to it and eventually vote it up or down. If the bill passes, it will go to a conference committee of the House and Senate to iron out differences between the two versions. Then comes a final vote.
The answer is incredibly important. Why? Because whether the bill passes is as much a matter of math as policy. Will Democrats ever again have to muster 60 votes — the magic number needed to limit debate and break a filibuster? Or will a simple majority carry the day from now on?
I had thought the answer was a simple majority. But bits and pieces in some news accounts I’ve scanned leave me confused. Here is one example from an article in Politico.com titled “How health care reform could fall apart:
“Right now, there is no public option plan that could garner 60 votes.”
Uh-huh. And why is it, after this vote breaks the filibuster, that Democrats would need 60 votes again? I don’t know.
The Times, Journal and Post accounts sounded a common theme: That this vote is the beginning, that big differences still remain among Democrats and that ultimate passage is not assured.
Though the answer to my process question is absolutely central to any intelligent analysis of the final vote, none of these papers addressed whether the Democrats will need to muster more than a simple majority in the future.
Why is that information so essential? Because if Democrats need just 50 votes (with Vice-President Joseph Biden casting the tie-breaker), they can survive the defection of up to 10 votes and still pass health care reform. In other words, it wouldn’t matter whether the half-dozen Democrats and independents who say they can’t accept the bill in its current form ultimately vote for it or not.
If, however, th party still needs 60 votes, well, this IS still just the beginning. So what’s the answer? Please, let me know when you find out.
At times during elections, I get frustrated by endless media analyses of process, of internal campaign polls and of infighting at the expense of issues that affect the American public. This time it is the process that’s getting short shrift.
The math is at least as important now as the debate about public options, proposed Medicare changes, wording about abortion and what not.
In the future, will the minimum need to pass health care be 60 votes or 50 plus Biden? The elite news media have failed their audiences badly by failing to provide the answer.
My thanks to Rick Ungar, True/Slant’s resident health care expert, for his clear and comprehensive explanation below in the comments. It solves the mystery. Though yesterday’s vote did bring the bill to the full Senate for debate, that debate in theory can last forever unless the Democrats can again muster 60 votes to cut it off. That will prove the sticking point, not the ultimate vote on the bill. Why aren’t reporters explaining this? I’m left wondering whether some aren’t clear on this themselves. If they are, they’ve simply forgotten that their audience is not members of Congress but a whole lot of people straining to understand this process and this bill.