As support for the Democrats’ plans for health care finance reform crumble, they seem to be almost doubling down to get something — anything passed, even saying publicly that it’ll be worth it even if it costs them quite a few seats in Congress. While this kind of dedication to principle over personal benefit is a bit surprising (while also simultaneously disturbing and encouraging), it has left me wondering just what the hell is behind what seems an almost suicidal dedication to a cause that appears to be rapidly fading.
And I think I’ve figured it out. Someone on the Democratic side has really, really looked at the rules and come up with what they think is a strategy for a long-term win. And they just might be right.
As anyone with the slightest knowledge of how our government works, for a law to pass it must get a majority in both houses of Congress and be signed by the president. That’s the basics, as outlined in the Constitution.
The reality, as always, is a bit more complicated. For one, it doesn’t necessarily have to be signed by the president; if he ignores it, most of the time it’ll become law anyway — or, if Congress goes out of session and he ignores it, it goes away. Generally, though, a law needs at least the passive support of the president.
Keep that in mind. It will be important later on.
It’s also slightly more complicated in Congress. The House is pretty much as stated — a simple majority (usually 218) is enough to pass anything. In the Senate, it’s a bit more complicated. There, they set up some protections for the minority. While it still takes 51 votes to pass a bill, it takes 60 votes to cut off debate — meaning that 41 Senators can thwart the will of 59 of their brethren. We’ve all had this hammered into our heads over the past year or so.
So here’s the Democrats’ strategy. All they need to do is water down their plan enough to pare off one or two Republican senators to support it and get the magic 60 votes they need to get it through the Senate. Then they can push it through the House (where they have a very hefty majority) and have Obama sign it into law. They just have to do it before next January, when the current Congress expires and the new one we’ll elect this November will be seated.
Here’s where we move beyond Civics 101 and into the advanced stuff.
On paper, all it takes to repeal a law is the same thing it takes to pass one — a majority in both houses and the president’s assent. But again, the devil is in the details — repealing a law often requires a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, as noted above.
But that is all contingent on the assent of the president. And should a newly-Republican Congress wish to repeal Obamacare, that presumption goes right out the window, as Obama can veto such a repeal.
Of course, the Constitution, with its elegant system of checks and balances, offers a way for Congress to override a veto. But it isn’t an easy one. It takes 2/3 of each House to pass an override.
Remember those 60 votes needed to end debate in the Senate? That’s nothing. Make it 67 for a veto override.
And it’s even worse in the House. Forget that 218 of 435 number. For vetoes, it skyrockets to a 290 threshold.
A Republican landslide in November would be nowhere near enough to undo an ObamaCare law. It would take a massacre of nigh-Biblical proportions. Republicans would have to gain 26 seats in the Senate and 112 in the House, and that simply ain’t gonna happen.
Alternately, we could get the Supreme Court to strike down ObamaCare as unconsitutional. But Obama is lining up more liberal justices to fill any vacancies, and the conservatives on the bench are — well, conservative, and reluctant to get too activist as a general rule.
So if Obamacare can get passed, in any form, it’s pretty much guaranteed to stand until 2013, when we might — or might not — get rid of President Obama. And in those few years, it will have intertwined its tentacles into so many places, it might be impossible to undo and root out.
Could that be their plan? Write off the 2010 elections in the hopes that by the time 2012 rolls around, ObamaCare will be enough of a fait accompli that they can ride back into power? To write off Congress for two years in the hopes that Obama can keep things in check until the next election cycle, when they can stage a comeback?
Seems like a hell of a long shot.
On the other hand, it might be their best option. Or, more accurately, their least worst.