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Today in Health Care Reform

The search for votes continues.

9:48 AM, Mar 9, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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In the umpteenth liberal column urging the president to "get tough" and "fight back" and "pass the damn bill," Richard Cohen writes: "What's wrong with the old belief -- a virtual childhood mantra -- that 'majority rules'?"

Today in Health Care Reform

Rep. Bart Stupak and friends

Good question! Let's take a moment for a basic civics lesson. The United States is not a unicameral majoritarian democracy. It is a bicameral constitutional republic with minority rights, checks and balances, and dispersed power. The majority does not rule. Why? Because the Founders sought to guard against what Tocqueville called the "tyranny of the majority." Liberals can bemoan this fact all they want. In order to change it, however, they would have to enact real change to the Constitution and the rules of the U.S. Senate. Good luck with that.

Now, majority rule is indeed how the House works. And here's the rub -- right now the Democrats do not have a majority to pass the Senate health care bill. And the reason they do not have a majority is that a majority of the public opposes this bill. So, in a sense, right now the majority does rule.

The Hill does a whip count here. It found a great number of members undecided, a significant number leaning No, and only two members (Carnahan of Missouri and Oberstar of Minnesota) leaning Yes. That is what you call an uphill battle.

So the Democratic leadership has to flip votes. In today's Examiner, Susan Ferrechio lists four roadblocks: the Senate's reconciliation "sidecar," abortion, cost, and whether House liberals will balk at a bill that does not have a public option. All but the most radical House liberals will fold and vote Yes. And while Bart Stupak didn't go to the opera with the president, he says he's encouraged by the ongoing abortion talks. Say the leadership finds a way to bring the Stupak votes on board.

That would leave cost and mistrust of the Senate. These hurdles will be more difficult to surmount. The bill isn't getting any cheaper. Members are worried that spending has become a vote-driving issue. Meanwhile, House Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill used to say that House Republicans are the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy. Good thing Democrats subscribe to a policy of engagement!

Three outcomes spring to mind. One, Nancy Pelosi finds 216 votes for a pre-Easter Recess vote and health care reform becomes law. Two, the grinding stasis continues until the November elections and nothing passes. Or three, a major and unexpected event along the lines of Scott Brown's election occurs and the process is scrambled once again. So the odds are still slightly against health care reform -- and will be until the Democrats find a majority.

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