Expect an announcement from President Obama tomorrow, March 3, that outlines the steps Democrats plan to take to enact health care reform via the parliamentary tactic called reconciliation. The linchpin is the House, where Nancy Pelosi needs 216 votes to pass the Senate bill. She says she'll have them. The AP talked to 10 Democrats who (anonymously) say they "have not ruled out switching their 'no' votes to 'yes'" this time around. What's unknown is how many Yes votes will switch to No votes because of the Senate's expansive abortion language, among other things. In Pelosi's February 28 interview with ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, the speaker seemed cautious, probably because the final legislative deal is still being worked out behind closed doors.
If the House is able to pass the December 24 Senate bill unchanged, then the Senate's job will be to pass a series of "fixes" through reconciliation, which requires only a majority vote. So Harry Reid can afford to lose nine members of his caucus, because Joe Biden will break any tie. And nine votes seems like enough of a cushion for Reid to pass the bill.
Democrats truly believe they are better off politically by passing health care reform. Of course, ideology plays a role here, as well. Most Democrats want to see universal health insurance in the United States and believe there is something morally wrong with a system that does not have universality. For most Democrats, cost was always a subsidiary issue. The larger imperative was insuring the uninsured. That is why Warren Buffett's concerns won't stop them from trying to pass this bill:
The polls be damned -- once the insurance reforms in particular are in place, Democrats believe, they will have discrete (and individually popular) accomplishments to run on in the fall. And the populist fury sure to be unleashed by passing the bill through reconciliation may well fade by the time Election Day comes around.
That's the Democratic narrative, in any case. What's certain is the Democrats are making one of the biggest political gambles in American history. They're betting that overhauling one-sixth of the American economy against the public's wishes and by a partisan vote is going to pay off in the end. They have doubled down, and are hoping the house busts.
Which at the rate we are spending, may happen sooner than you think.