No 'Gang of Six' Deal Would Bind Republicans

No one knows the political fate of Obamacare, but everyone wants to hazard a guess on what congress will do with it when the House and Senate come back next week.  

In the Senate, where institutional wisdom suggests the fate of the health care legislation resides, there is not much consensus between the two parties or the individual Senators.  The so called “Gang of Six,” members of both parties from the Senate Finance Committee, is still working on its own personal idea of a compromise.  Those six members are committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking Republican Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Republican Sens. Mike Enzi (Wyo.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Democrat Sens. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.).  

There is not a great deal of confidence they will reach consensus among themselves nor is it likely they would come up with something that would gel with the radically liberal House leadership.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, updated reporters yesterday on where health care legislation stands in the Senate.  Of concern to most Republican senators about any sort of steps that could be taken to fix some of the elements that both sides agree on would only lead to radical liberals House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) loading the bill back up with the government takeover elements in conference to merge the House and Senate bills.

“If Republicans and Democrats are going to agree on a health care bill that takes a few important steps, then the President is going to have to sit down with the Republican leader in the Senate and the Republican leader in the House and give them assurances about what will be in the final result,” Alexander said.  “That’s the way it’s always worked before and it works well that way.”

Yet, at this point, who could trust the word of the White House that those radical elements would not be in the final result, regardless of what the President says?  He doesn’t have such a great track record, the most recent and blatant being his assurances that his administration would not “look back” in investigating CIA interrogators who have already been cleared of any wrongdoing in their questioning of terrorists by career professionals at the Department of Justice five years ago.  That guarantee lasted less than a month before Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a prosecutor.  So much for the President’s word.

HUMAN EVENTS Editor Jed Babbin asked Alexander to confirm that the so-called gang of six is operating independently — as independent senators with no instructions or limitations — and that if they make a deal, the rest of the Republican conference will not be bound by it.

“Of course, that’s right,” Alexander said.  “My guess is that they won’t make such a deal unless they think they have substantial support within the Republican conference.”

Alexander also said that more than any other factor, it would be what senators were hearing from their constituents that would gauge whether or not they supported the bill.  He was asked what seniors in his home state are saying to him about the bill.

“Seniors have more interest in and more to lose from this debate than any other group of Americans because seniors are older and sicker and in need of more care,” Alexander said.  “I find a lot of very worried older Tennesseans who are saying to me don’t take away my care, don’t let the government tell me I can’t have my hip replaced if I’m 70 years old. … Taking money from grandma’s Medicare program and spending it on some new program is the number one issue I hear and rationing is number two among older Tennesseans.”

The other possibility for passage through the Senate would be use of a highly controversial budget reconciliation scheme that could, depending on parliamentary rulings, allow passage with 51 votes instead of the usual 60 required to end debate and move the legislation to a final vote.  Reconciliation would also be an attempt to give political cover to Democrat Senators from red states allowing them to vote against the bill or risk being thrown out on their ear if they vote for government takeover of health care.

Alexander was asked what he thought about Democrats saying they may attempt go it alone using a reconciliation scheme to get the health care bill through without any kind of meaningful Republican support.

“I think that would wreck our health care system and wreck the Democratic Party if they did that,” Alexander said.  “The intensity on this issue across the country is like nothing I’ve seen in a long, long time.  Everyone is affected by this legislation.  And if the people who are deeply concerned about this today thought that one party would ram through a proposal which is almost certain to increase the debt, limit coverage, raise costs, cause people to lose their employer-based insurance, there’d be a minor revolution in the country.  Plus, it would be a Swiss cheese piece of legislation.  The [Senate] parliamentarian would be writing the bill under this odd procedure.”

The “gang of six” promises an update by Friday.  Stay tuned.


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