One down, one to go

ONE DOWN, ONE TO GO…. As extraordinary as yesterday’s developments in the House were, there’s another step. Or more specifically, another chamber.

The Senate health care bill is now awaiting President Obama’s signature, but the House also approved a reconciliation package that will be considered by the Senate this week. Under the rules of the process, Republicans will not be able to filibuster the budget fix — it will be majority rule — but GOP senators have already vowed to do everything they can think of obstruct the final phase of the overall process.

Senate Democrats on Monday are set to pick up the battle over health care reform where the House left off, but the path forward remains uncertain as Republicans comb the reconciliation package for weaknesses and Democrats hunker down in an attempt to preserve the integrity of the bill.

“It will be important that we stay together so we can keep the bill strong,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said. “We won’t want to erode the bill just because certain people from certain states might want to do something. So, we will to a certain extent have to work together on this.”

Countered National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas): “We’ll either bring down the whole bill, or we’ll punch big holes in it.”

There’s one element of this that’s gone largely overlooked, especially while so much attention was focused on the House vote.

The reconciliation package improves the legislation with popular fixes. For example, those “special deals” that so many found offensive (“Cornhusker Kickback” and the like) would be scrapped from the health care package when the budget fix is approved. In a political context, this means that Republicans intend to fight as hard as they can to protect the parts of the Senate bill that no one likes.

GOP senators apparently intend to make the Democrats’ campaign message easy — Republicans were unanimous in saying “no” to elements of health care reform Americans like, and then unanimous again in saying “yes” to elements Americans dislike. I can see the ads now: “Why is Sen. David Vitter fighting to protect special deals for Nebraska?”

This, Republicans are convinced, is a smart strategy. There’s a very good reason Democrats don’t seem intimidated.

In terms of scheduling, a handful of senators are supposed to meet today with the Senate parliamentarian, and if preliminary hurdles are cleared, debate will begin on the Senate floor tomorrow. We might see a vote on Thursday, though GOP delaying tactics may push it off until Saturday.