Critical Condition

Reid’s Stacked-Deck Gamble

Senator Reid’s health-care bill will cost $848 billion (at least) and impose a host of new and increased taxes, including one on plastic surgery. Fox Business’s Brian Sullivan has a helpful entry this morning on what the bill does and does not do.

At this point, though, the specifics take a back seat to the political drama. Despite the fact that Reid has a significant Democratic majority in the Senate, he is currently working to make sure that he can keep 60 votes together in order to get the bill to the Senate floor via a motion to proceed.

The fact that this is so hard — despite the fact that there are only 40 Republicans — is because this bill, like the House bill passed a few weeks ago, has plenty in it to offend a variety of consituencies. Unions, for example, dislike the tax on cadillac, or high-value, insurance plans. The Washington Times’s Stephen Dinan and David M. Dickson quote Teamster president James Hoffa, Jr on the subject as follows: “Any claims that it affects only ‘Cadillac’ plans and thus the wealthy is misleading. This tax will fall on one-third of Americans in ten years.”

Dinan and Dickson also explain how the Reid bill will bring back the marriage penalty, which President Bush campaigned against and, with Congress, largely eliminated.

Despite the bill’s problems, Senator Reid is focused on that key vote tomorrow night. My guess is that he wins, largely because he has 60 members in his caucus — the legislative equivalent of a stacked deck. I have to assume he would only proceed on such a high-stakes bet if he knew he could win.

Reid has miscalulated before, though, as we saw with the recent doc fix that failed to get a majority in the Senate, let alone the 60 it needed. Still, the safer bet is that the motion to proceed succeeds, which opens up a whole new round of politicking, amendments, and more test votes.

Even if the bill does pass at the end of the day, it is not going to solve the biggest problem faced by our health system, which is runaway costs — 2.5 trillion dollars and rising faster than inflation. If the Democrats succeed, we will likely see a reduction of the number of uninsured but no improvement on the cost side, which means we would just have to reopen the debate again as the new programs proved to be unsustainable. The only good news in that scenario is that we will probably have more Republican votes to count on at that point. In other words, the health-care debate is not near the end nor even the beginning of the end; it may only be, as Churchill once said, the end of the beginning.

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump.