Fifty plus one


President Barack Obama on Wednesday endorsed congressional Democrats' plans to use a controversial process known as "budget reconciliation" to nationalize American health care, turning it over to a vast new trillion-dollar bureaucracy via simple majority vote -- bypassing Senate rules that allow 41 senators to block controversial measures.

And the president said he's willing to stake Democrats' long-term political fortunes on the Hail Mary maneuver.

"The American people want to know if it's still possible for Washington to look out for their interests and their future," said the president. "They are waiting for us to act. They are waiting for us to lead."

Mr. Obama said health care deserves "the same up-or-down vote" -- meaning a simple majority vote -- as other major pieces of legislation that were passed through reconciliation over the past three decades, including a welfare overhaul, tax cuts and expansion of medical coverage for children and laid-off workers.

"I don't know how this plays politically, but I know it's right," the president said Wednesday.

Actually, the president knows it's wrong.

Interviewed by CBS News on Nov. 2, 2004, then-Sen. Obama said, "My understanding of the Senate is that you need 60 votes to get something significant to happen, which means that Democrats and Republicans have to ask the question, do we have the will to move an American agenda forward, not a Democratic or Republican agenda forward."

At the Sept. 25, 2007, "Change to Win" convention, Mr. Obama called health insurance reform "an area where we're going to have to have a 60 percent majority in the Senate and the House in order to actually get a bill to my desk. We're going to have to have a majority to get the bill to my desk, that is not just a 50-plus-one majority."

Next, in an interview with the editorial board of the Concord Monitor during the 2007 primary campaign, Mr. Obama said, "Maybe you eke out a victory with 50-plus-one, but you can't govern. You know you get Air Force One, I mean there are a lot of nice perks (laughter), but you can't deliver on health, we're not gonna pass universal health care with a 50-plus-one strategy."

Then at the 2007 Center for American Progress Conference, Mr. Obama stated, "If we want to transform the country, though, that requires a sizable majority."

Other members of the U.S. Senate seemed more in agreement Wednesday with the old, consensus-seeking Obama, rather than the new, desperate Obama. "I don't prefer reconciliation," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., explained to the McClatchy Washington bureau. "This is so big a change that affects every American. This ought to be bipartisan."

Can Mr. Obama ram through his hugely unpopular scheme by throwing the Democratic Party on the scrap heap? Maybe; it will be nip and tuck. But if he "ekes out a victory with 50-plus-one," can he then continue to "govern"?

At least one leading Democrat has warned that he cannot. And that Democrat is ... Barack Obama.

 

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