As the Senate gets closer to voting on a health care reconciliation bill, the Republican strategy to derail the Democrats’ plans is getting creative–and dirty. Their strategy is clear: with Democrats determined to pass a clean bill, Republicans will force them to vote down politically juiced-up amendments, and likely turn them into political ads meant to characterize Dems as sympathetic to sex offenders and fraudsters.
Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) got it started by filing the first two amendments: one to repeal the ‘government takeover of health care,’ and another to block federal funding of ACORN (the community organizing group that folded yesterday). Just behind him came Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who wants to make Democrats vote, among other things, on an amendment that “prohibit[s] the new health care exchanges from providing coverage of Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs to convicted child molesters and rapists.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) got in on the act, authoring an amendment to strip all special deals out of the health care bill.
The goal is simple. To expedite its passage, Democrats need to keep the changes to the reconciliation bill to a minimum, and so have committed to voting down all amendments, even ones that they like. And Republicans want to turn those votes into negative campaign ads ahead of this November’s election.
Once the votes are cast, the ads all but write themselves.
“Senator X voted to preserve sex offenders’ right to Viagra.”
“Senator Y wants your tax dollars to go to ACORN.”
On Fox News this morning, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) forecast it ever so slightly. “It looks like the democrats are going to walk in lockstep and oppose amendments that would make a lot of sense, which would significantly approve the bill,” Gregg said. “But they’re just going to vote everything down.”
Rank and file Democrats smell the political danger. And that’s why leadership and outside groups are trying to calm their nerves and and keep their votes in line. At a weekly caucus lunch yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Democrats they need to vote down everything, even if the implications are politically toxic, to assure swift passage, according to Reid spokesman Jim Manley. And the AFL-CIO yesterday assured Senate Dems that they’d provide them cover for taking politically difficult votes.
Emerging from the lunch meeting yesterday, Democrats said they’d be voting down everything. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) described the whole GOP strategy as a game. But whether they can stick together when it actually comes time to vote remains to be seen.