By Lindsay Beyerstein
People are getting way too worked up about Nancy Pelosi's announcement that she doesn't have the votes to pass the Senate's health reform bill right now.
"In every meeting that we have had, there would be nothing to give me any thought that that bill could pass right now the way that it is," Pelosi said yesterday, "There isn't a market right now for proceeding with the full bill unless some big changes are made."
Now, maybe Pelosi doesn't have the votes right now, but such is the life of the Speaker of the House. Just because she doesn't have the votes in hand doesn't necessarily mean she can't get them.
If Pelosi does have the votes right now, she'd be a fool to say so. In the wake of Martha Coakley's defeat, all eyes are on the House. If health care reform is to survive, the House will have to pass the Senate bill "as is." But that wouldn't necessarily be the end of the story. The Senate could still fix some stuff the House doesn't like through budget reconciliation, which can't be filibustered. In theory, the Senate could even put the public option back in, though I'm not holding my breath.
Pelosi would be foolish announce that the House could pass the Senate bill right off the bat. She'd lose all her leverage with her Senate colleagues. If Pelosi assures them she has this all wrapped up, the Senate won't change a thing.
Pelosi's using the oldest negotiating trick in the book: "Sorry, guys, my hands are tied. The yahoos in my caucus will never accept your deal. I guess the whole thing goes down in flames. That is, unless you give them X. Then maybe I can talk some sense into the hoopleheads."
Realistically, Pelosi needs some major concessions in order to get the votes. For example, she might be able to bag some hardline House Democrats if the Senate first passed reconciliation instructions abolishing the so-called "Cadillac plan" tax. Getting rid of the tax is a high priority for the labor movement.
I've been told by several experts on legislative procedure that it is possible to pass the reconciliation instructions first as long as the president ultimately signs the health care bill first.
So, don't panic. Pelosi has shown no signs of giving up on health reform. She's just doing her job.