Game Changer: Dems’ Health Care Success Blunts GOP Momentum

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March 23, 2010 12:40 pm
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What a difference a day makes. And, you know, the signing of a sweeping health care bill.

Last week, the atmosphere in the Capitol–and indeed, all across political Washington–was tense, and ominous. Democrats hadn’t rounded up all the votes they needed (and ultimately found) to pass health care reform, and Senate Republicans knew it. They kicked up as much dust as they could to scare House members into killing their own bill. Fixing the health care bill with reconciliation would fail, they warned over and over again, and Dems would be stuck having enacting an unpopular reform.

Today, that’s all gone.It started last night when Senate parliamentarian Alan Frumin sided with the Democrats over the Republicans’ first major objection to the reconciliation bill. Republicans tried to get a major tax amendment stripped from the package on the grounds that it violated the Byrd rule…and they failed.

Today, Democrats are more confident than they’ve been in months. And while the Republicans haven’t completely surrendered, they’re clearly not the hard charging health care kamikazes they were weeks ago, when Democrats were ready to wave the white flag.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA)–one of the chief architects of the health care law–characterized the Democrats’ newfound confidence by characterizing the difference between Republicans and Democrats in campaign terms. Republicans, he said, want to take away all the goodies in the bill

“I can’t wait for this debate to happen. I look forward to it. I will relish it,” Harkin said, on his way into a weekly Democratic caucus lunch. “Now the bill is passed, its signed into law. Now the American people have something. They own it. It’s theirs. And the Republicans are saying they want to take it away from them.”

Across town, at the signing ceremony, an ebullient Vice President Joe Biden put his enthusiasm…more bluntly.

For their part, Republicans continue rail against the health care bill. But gone are their bold predictions that they’ll be able to blow it to smithereens. A senior Republican leadership aide tells me that he doubts the reconciliation process will drag into the weekend.

And appearing on CNBC yesterday evening, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK)–one of the Senate’s fiercest opponents of reform–threw in the towel. “We’ll put a few holes in it, but basically it’s going to come through here because they’ve done a good job crafting it…. We’re going to have a difficult time making changes to that reconciliation bill.”

Maybe House Democrats were right to trust their Senate counterparts after all.

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