Sometime during the course of last week, the health care bill the Democrats have been pushing crossed some critical line between borderline normal and utter and absolute farce. There’s no chance it will end in any way well for the Democrats, no chance it will be accepted by many as wholly legitimate, or not meet in some way a major resistance, by political and/or legal means.
On Thursday, Virginia passed a bill to opt out of the individual mandate, on the grounds it is unconstitutional, and similar measures are being considered by 30 more states. Some acts of the New Deal were repealed by court rulings, and such attempts, even if unsuccessful, can rally opponents and keep the fight going for years.
This is the last act of an ongoing drama in which the bill’s unpopularity necessitates maneuvers to pass it that make it even less popular still. It was unpopular in October, when the House passed its version, which led in November to Republican governors in states that earlier went to Obama by seven and 17 points. This so unnerved senators that their votes had to be bought in December by pork-laden payoffs. Three weeks later, these bribes and these payoffs helped elect Scott Brown. House Democrats, who now have to pass the Senate bill as it is or pass nothing, are now spooked by Brown (as well as Govs. Rob McDonnell and Chris Christie), and are now torn between two strong and nearly equivalent terrors: fear of the forces — the unions, and their leaders and president — who can make their lives miserable, and fear of the voters, who can end their careers.
The Democrats’ strategy now is to keep their members in Washington, D.C., locked in small rooms with union thugs and their leaders (waterboarding in this case is a distinct possibility) and separated at all costs from the actual voters, whose howls of fury might cause them to sway. Thus, the genius of the solution that would pass the Senate bill through the House without members, or without voters being able to find out exactly who voted for what. This idea is that the House members should reconcile the Senate bill by themselves before it goes back to the Senate, by drawing up a bill of corrections that the House would then pass, the act of voting for the corrections implying thereby that the real bill had passed earlier, although it clearly had not. The idea is that the crime would then be committed, with no members’ prints on the knife.
As the blog Daily Caller explained it, “They’ll never have voted for the bill they find odious, even if their vote on the reconciliation legislation will have been the vote that passed the Senate bill into law.” So this “bill,” which amends a bill that hasn’t been passed yet, can survive only if its contents are secret, and those who voted to pass it are able to claim with some odd sort of logic they never did so at all.
“Democratic leaders should be asking themselves just how they have gotten to the point that their strategy is to amend a law that doesn’t yet exist by passing a bill without voting for it,” Yuval Levin wrote. Or one that their members may vote for if they pretend that they didn’t. And this is the work of our cerebral and rational leader? Did someone say “farce”?
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”