It’s as simple as that.
All in favor say, “aye.” All opposed say, “nay.” If the yes votes outnumber the no’s, then the bill passes and moves to the president’s desk. If he signs it, then it’s the law of the land.
That is Civics 101.
Expect Republicans opposed to the health-care reforms on the table — which is to say all Republicans — to continue their stalling tactics. They have pulled out all the legislative tricks they can muster to prevent one simple thing: Allowing the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate from voting on ways to fix the way Americans receive health care.
Are those proposed reforms perfect? No, in many ways the plans before Congress are timid half-measures, a calculation by the Democrats to settle for what they can get rather than leading the way toward a better, more fair way of distributing health care.
Yet, they are a product of the political system. Despite the proposed reform’s flaws, it would inject money and fairness into a system that is often inherently unfair to many working Americans who are sick, out of a job or both.
Republicans have reason to fear such a vote, especially if it passes and reforms took root. Republicans often find themselves on the opposite side of the vast majority of Americans who enjoy the benefits of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. All are popular programs with most citizens, who see that a healthier nation for the poor, the elderly and the very young serves the interests of the nation as a whole.
Health-care reform that better looks after even more Americans will doubtlessly become popular, even among those who currently tell pollsters they are opposed to Democratic fixes.
The political class scoffed at the anti-reform town-hall participant who last year famously held up a sign reading, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”
Yet, that sign presents a very real threat to Republicans. Since its 1965 passage over the objections of conservatives like the ones opposed to today’s reforms, Medicare has become a popular government program. As George W. Bush showed with his 2003 proposal of a Medicare prescription-drug benefit, politicians — even conservative ones — interested in keeping their jobs must seek only to improve it; ending the program might be a conservative’s dream, but it is not a serious consideration.
Republicans, watching their electoral prospects for this fall rising, have all the motivation they need to bottle up the Democrats’ health-care reform plans. They don’t ever want to see a sign reading: “Keep your government hands off my Obamacare.”
To that end, Senate Republicans have demanded that a vote of health care get 60 votes instead of the normal and constitutionally prescribed simple majority of 51 votes. In the House and Senate, opponents have slowed down the proceedings with time-wasting amendments and other tactics that add up to stalling an up-or-down vote.
A word at this point about reform’s opponents. A few conservative Senate and House Democrats have been reluctant to support reform. In the Senate, those Democrats gamed the system to bring home a little pork for the home state. Meanwhile, 39 House Democrats voted against reform. All House Republicans voted against reform except for one, Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana. The bottom line is Republicans remain the driving force behind efforts to deny lawmakers’ vote.
Votes have taken place on separate bills in the House and the Senate. To break the gridlock, Democrats now are proposing using a legislative tactic that would thwart further stalling. The so-called reconciliation method would allow both chambers to quickly vote and then if it passes to move it to the president’s desk for signature.
If the White House’s “up-or-down vote” language sounds familiar, it should. It’s the very talking point employed by Republicans on any number of Bush administration proposals. Same goes for the reconciliation process that was used several times by Republicans in Congress.
All this will be important to remember as Republican lawmakers continue to use whatever means necessary from seeing health-care reform pass.