GOP votes are sought, but aren’t mandatory

GOP VOTES ARE SOUGHT, BUT AREN’T MANDATORY…. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah complained yesterday, “From the start of the health care debate, Democrats have completely shut us out of the process.”

One wonders which process Hatch has been watching. The Senate majority seems to have invested an enormous amount of time and energy trying to reach out to the 40-seat Republican minority. Indeed, had Dems decided early on to blow off the GOP altogether, chances are, we’d be closer to a finished product by now.

And yet, Republican outreach continues anyway. Late yesterday, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) continued to huddle with Republicans on his committee, and around the same time, President Obama chatted up Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Bob Corker (Tenn.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.). The Politico reported this morning that the president will meet with “more Republican senators at the White House” today.

Do these efforts suggest Democrats are back to prioritizing bipartisanship as a prerequisite to reform? Apparently not.

[P]rivately, White House officials said the administration is moving closer to advancing the overhaul under a congressional procedure known as budget reconciliation that would make the bill immune to filibuster in the Senate.

While the administration still prefers to get a bill that commands some Republican support, its standard for a bipartisan agreement is a measure that contains GOP amendments — not something that will necessarily attract Republican votes.

The subtle but important shift reflects Obama’s eagerness to get House and Senate bills to a conference in September and sign a final bill into law by fall.

There’s nothing inherently contradictory here. Obama and his allies are effectively telling Republicans, “We’re listening and we’d like your support. But we’re not going to let the minority derail reform.” It adds some leverage to the discussions — Dems want GOP votes, but they don’t need GOP votes, and the majority would apparently prefer that Republicans keep that in mind.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) no doubt spoke for many when he said, “There’s a strong preference for bipartisanship because it makes the bill easier to pass. But if we cannot get bipartisanship, we must forge ahead because health care reform is too important.” Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) added, “There’s a value in achieving bipartisanship, but I will not sacrifice a good bill for that. The people we are working for are not our colleagues, but the American public.”

Meanwhile, in the House, conservative Blue Dog Dems continue to be an ongoing obstacle for reform. Rep. Mike Ross (D) of Arkansas told CNN yesterday, “We remain opposed to the current bill, and we continue to meet several times a day to decide how we’re going to proceed.”