After passing in the U.S. House of Representatives by a 220–215 vote on Saturday, Obamacare heads to the U.S. Senate this week, where it faces five major obstacles. NRO spoke with Republican senators and numerous aides on Monday about potential roadblocks in the Democrats’ way as they try to cobble together 60 votes.
1. Time. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, tells NRO that time is on the GOP’s side. Let the Senate debate go on for a couple months, he says, and the American people will become fully aware of what’s actually in the bill. “Then there will be a revulsion,” he predicts.
The Democrats, meanwhile, are struggling to agree on a soft deadline for getting a bill to the president’s desk. The White House would very much like to see a bill passed before the winter recess, in order to avoid the chance that fence-sitting senators will change their minds after a couple weeks of hearing from constituents back home.
#ad#2. President Obama. Though still the Democrats’ greatest political asset, President Obama is also quickly becoming a handicap for numerous Democratic senators who are worried about their re-election campaigns next year, from Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.) to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). As the White House continues to push hard on issues like the public option, leery Democrats see the president as their Don Draper — a fabled salesman who seems to have lost his touch.
“This is very much an uphill climb for the president,” says Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas). “I have a hard time seeing this end well for the Democrats. They’re looking at some serious challenges in 2010. That kind of pressure has a tendency to focus the mind.”
Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) agrees. “I was in Pres. George W. Bush’s cabinet during the second term, when the honeymoon was, shall we say, long since over,” he says. “President Obama seems to have hit that difficult position very early in his administration. He’s in a real pickle.”
3. GOP Amendments. As the bill heads to the Senate floor for debate, the Republicans, though only numbering 40, are preparing a strong amendment strategy that they hope will overwhelm Democrats, forcing them to confront every aspect of the bill. “Senator Mitch McConnell is working on a coordinated package of amendments,” says Cornyn. “We’re trying to do this thematically, looking at various parts of the bill, from taxes to Medicare to malpractice reform, to make sure the American people see all the angles.”
4. Abortion. After the Stupak amendment split the House Democratic caucus, Senate Republicans predict a similar fight among Democrats in the Senate. “The Democrats need 60 votes,” says Cornyn. “The Conference of Catholic Bishops helped to push the House bill along, but on abortion, the bill is only as good as the final product.” If the Stupak amendment gets stripped out in the Senate, “watch for some cold feet in the conference,” he says. “If they water this down, it will be a lynchpin issue.”
The Stupak amendment is “right on,” adds Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R., Tex.). “I hope the Senate keeps that amendment to keep Democrats like Senator Casey from Pennsylvania comfortable with the bill,” and perhaps, others uncomfortable.
5. The public option. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.), a member of the Democratic caucus, already has said that if a public option is included, he will not support the bill, leaving the Democrats with only 59 votes. Lieberman has been “very strong and principled on this,” says Hutchison. Others may follow suit, she says.
These five issues are just the beginning. With the Congressional Budget Office said to be coming out with a new score of the bill later this week, other wary Democrats such as Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and Evan Bayh of Indiana probably already have a much longer checklist of concerns.
– Robert Costa is the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.