Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law - University of Tulsa College of Law
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Health | Opinion
Mark Trahant: Health care reform dead in Senate


"I’d love to be wrong, but health care reform is dead.

I know, I know, the process is not over. In a week or so there will be a flurry of activity when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brings a compromise bill to the floor. There will be starts and stops and a pitch for 60 votes. There may even be enough to pass a bill of some kind.

But consider the process. I smile when I think of legislative “process” because I remember the cartoon from my youth, Schoolhouse Rock, where the bill itself explains the odds against it by saying, “I may die.” That phrase is the key to understanding the legislative maze: there are far more ways to kill a bill than to enact one. Every step through that labyrinth requires choices designed to attract enough votes to make one more step.

Such was the case in the House of Representatives when it voted to prohibit either a government-insurance program or a private one that accepts government subsidies from spending money to cover abortion services. This was considered critical to passing the bill because so many Democrats who were anti-abortion rights said it was either this or no bill. It worked: The House passed H.R. 3962 by five votes, 220 in favor, 215 against. Even then nearly 40 Democrats were on the “nay” side, including South Dakota’s Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. She told the Rapid City Journal: “I think they've had a sense, just as they did on other legislation, that my priorities for South Dakotans were not being adequately addressed.” But she should have qualified her statement to read: some South Dakotans because her no vote also was a rejection of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

The thing about Congress is we don’t really know the real strength of the Democratic vote. Once the leadership had enough votes to ensure passage, they likely let members in swing or Republican districts vote the other way for show. The idea is it will help them preserve their jobs (and a Democratic majority)."

Get the Story:
Abortion debate overrides health care reform (Mark Trahant 11/16)

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