Any coach will chew out his team if they begin celebrating their lead at half time. That goes double for a celebration after the first quarter. Yet that is exactly what Trump and most of the Republicans in the House of Representatives did today in the Rose Garden of the White House as they celebrated the passage of their health care bill by the House of Representatives by a very narrow margin.
I’ve heard that many in the news media compare that victory celebration to “spiking the football after halftime”. However, that really isn’t a good analogy. To understand why, you have to understand how a bill proceeds through the House and Senate before the President can sign it and it becomes law. First the bill usually begins in the House. Passage by the House is the first step, and in this case the easiest one, though you wouldn’t know it considering what a major lift it was to get it that far.
Then the bill goes to the Senate, a much more deliberate and, in this case, a more moderate body. The majority of bills don’t make it through the Senate in the same form in which they passed the House. In almost all case the Senators make small or even major changes to a bill to suit the political needs of the various Senators, often as result of compromises needed to gain enough votes for passage. It isn’t unusual for bills die in the Senate because enough Senators can’t agree on changes that would allow passage.
In this case the any health care bill which has snowballs chance in hell’s of passing in the Senate will be vastly different than the bill which passed the House. Even if Senate leaders choose to abandon yet again the Senate closure rules which require 60 votes for passage, getting the required 50 votes (with the Vice President breaking the tie) will be extremely difficult. Any health care bill will have to moderate enough to pass the scrutiny of several moderate Republican Senators who will face reelection in blue and swing states. Such a bill will anger very conservative Senators from Ruby Red states who can’t afford be on record voting for moderate bills. Getting a health care bill though the Senate which has only 52 Republicans will be a much bigger lift than getting a bill passed by the House.
But let’s for a moment assume (a big assumption) that the Senate can put together a health care bill that at least 50 Senators can support. Game over? No, in our analogy it’s only have time. Now comes a process called “reconciliation”. Remember, the bill passed by the House and the one passed by Senate are very different, so neither chamber has passed a bill which can become law. In the reconciliation process, a select group of Senate and House members meet to negotiate and attempt to craft the wording of a compromise bill that can perhaps pass in both chambers. Consider this the half time show. Since the Senate and the House bills are very likely to be very different, the joint committee’s work won’t be an easy task.
To understand the difficulty the joint committee faces, remember that the House bill passed by only three votes which were cast by Representatives whose arms were twisted almost to the breaking point. Without Democratic participation, the Senate vote will pass with a maximum margin of only two votes, and arm twisting will be probably involved there as well. There won’t be much leeway on either side.
Any move to make the House bill more moderate in order to pass in the Senate is sure to alienate a number of votes in the House Freedom Caucus. The members of that group can be very stubborn when they are asked to go against their very conservative principles. The also know they could be primaried in their ruby red home districts if they abandon those principles. Any move to make the Senate bill any less moderate is sure to alienate several Senators whose political careers will be on the line in blue and swing states in their next election. Maybe the joint committee can come up with a good compromise bill which might have a small chance of passing in both chambers, but the odds are against them.
However, for the sake of continuing this narrative, let’s assume that against the odds the joint committee is successful. Okay folks, the half time show is over and the second half, and the two heaviest lifts of all, are set to begin. There are two votes in the second half, just as there were in the first half, only this time they can take place in parallel rather than in series. There is one vote in the House and one vote in the Senate, both on the same compromise bill crafted by the joint legislative committee.
Only this time there is no fudging. That is neither chamber can amend the compromise bill to make it more palatable to some of their members. If amendments were allowed in either the Senate or the House, the matter would have to again have to revert to the joint legislative committee. It is take it or leave it time. Any changes in a moderate direction made House bill to craft the compromise bill to allow passage the Senate would have to be agreed to by most of the members of the House Freedom Caucus. Any changes in a conservative direction made to Senate bill to craft the compromise bill to allow passage by the House would have to be agreed to by almost all of the the moderate Senators.
In my humble opinion given the ideologies in play and the political careers on the line, the chances of the same compromise health care bill passing both the Senate and the House of Representatives with only Republican votes are slim and none. And you can bet that no Democrat is going to be willing to help his Republican friends with these very heavy lifts.
So forgive me if I dismiss the media’s analogy of a team spiking the football after the first half. The victory celebration in the Rose Garden today was more comparable to a team which has a long record getting off to a good start, and then caving into their opponent rest of the game, celebrating a first quarter lead. Or we could bring up the image of George W. Bush standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and declaring victory in Iraq.