If cloture is the key to health care reform, why won't reporters ask Senators how they'll vote on it?

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Here's Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein, on today's statements from Max Baucus and Chuck Schumer that they don't have 60 votes:

There are two questions here. The first is "60 votes for what?" Do they not have 60 votes in favor of a health-care plan that includes a public option? Or do they not have 60 votes against a filibuster of a health-care plan that includes a public option? If it's the former, that's okay: You only need 51. If it's the latter, that's a bigger problem. But I'd be interested to hear which Democrats will publicly commit to filibustering Barack Obama's health-care reform bill. If that's such a popular position back home, why aren't more Democrats voicing it loudly?

Hey, that's a great point!

Actually, it reminds me of something I wrote a month ago:

Would Joe Lieberman really filibuster health insurance reform favored by Obama and the overwhelming majority of Senate Democrats after Obama and those same Senate Democrats did Lieberman the favor of allowing him to continue to chair the Government Affairs Committee after Lieberman ran against the Democratic nominee for his seat, endorsed the Republican presidential candidate, and attacked Obama in a speech at the Republican National Convention? Remember, he didn't even filibuster the "seriously flawed" bankruptcy bill he opposed in 2005.

Would John McCain really filibuster health insurance reform favored by a majority of the U.S. Senate just a year after voters chose Obama's approach to health care over his own?

Maybe. It's certainly possible. But isn't it odd that nobody has asked them? That the news media, which insist over and over that cloture is what matters, don't ask senators who express skepticism about, or opposition to, health care reform whether they will filibuster it?

I suspect there is some universe of senators -- I have no idea how many -- who want to kill health care reform (or at least large parts of it, like the public option) but who aren't willing to have its blood on their hands. So they calibrate their public statements in an effort to scare off advocates of a public option, hoping that, as a result, they never have to cast a vote against it.

Because if it comes to a vote, they'll have an awfully hard time filibustering legislation that would make health care available to all and more affordable for those who already have it. They'll have an awfully hard time casting a vote to deny a floor vote to legislation that enjoys the support of the majority of both houses of Congress and is the top legislative priority of a president elected on a promise of health care reform just last year.

I understand why they would take this approach. They want to avoid taking a definitive position on a contentious issue -- particularly on the question of whether they'd filibuster health care reform. That's completely understandable, if not admirable. And they're trying to shape health care reform through their vague-but-ominous statements. That's understandable, too -- it's a basic element of negotiation.

What is harder to understand is why so many reporters would help politicians avoid taking a stand.

Maybe it's finally time for reporters to start asking Senators if they will filibuster the public option -- not just whether they support it, or think it has enough votes. Will they filibuster it?

Given how much reporters write and say about the need for 60 votes to break a filibuster, it's pretty stunning that they never get around to asking Senators whether they'll vote to sustain or end a filibuster.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.