Before the Devil Knows You're Dead:
Sign the Senate Version of the Health Care Bill into a law before Joe Lieberman, Chair of Homeland Security, finds it incumbent upon himself to kill it at the next Cloture vote.
Before the final Senate Vote there was some talk of "ping ponging" the bill--that is, eliminating the House/Senate Conference and just sending the Senate Bill straight to Obama's desk to sign. There were some problems with that approach, because it required the House to cede its prerogatives as a co-equal law making body to the much more dysfunctional Senate. It also required the Progressives to take another body blow, since the House Bill was, in some ways, more progressive than the Senate Bill. It also would be another example of House progressives and voters being told that "their concerns would be addressed in conference/on the floor/in an amendment" and then being told that for reasons of policy that moment will never come. (See, e.g. Weiner's Single Payer Amendment, Stupak-Pitts, the entire Public Option). On the good side taking the Senate Bill and rushing it through to signature prevents one more massive cloture vote fight during which, for example, Byrd could die or Lieberman defect.
So, what are the odds of Lieberman, or any other wobbling Senators, defecting if the House and Senate Bills are merged in conference? The problem with figuring this out is that we don't know what the White House and Reid think they know about Lieberman and the other Senators. So far we've all just been forced to watch from the outside and guess at the internal struggles and compromises. Nevertheless, looking at Lieberman's history of disappointing his friends and joining with our enemies, we can be sure that Lieberman will not let this last chance to fuck Health Care Over go without a struggle. There's a some Probability that Lieberman will insist on either being part of the negotiations in the House/Senate conference or will appoint himself a "shadow member" and simply let it be known, from the sidelines, that any and all changes to the bill for the better will be opposed with a final vote against Cloture.
I can't put a number on the odds of Lieberman actually carrying through on the anti Cloture vote but I think the betting must be very heavily in favor of his using the threat to fatally deform the House/Senate conference itself. That's been the real trick to it all along, hasn't it? The killer cloture vote was used to force the progressives and the real Democrats to cede ground on the bill before it came to votes--this was clearly the case, for example, even when the bill was in the House and the threat of "not getting to sixty in the Senate" was used to keep the House progressives in line. It was doubly true in the Senate where Lieberman and Nelson both forced the progressives, like Boxer, to do their bidding. (That this was done to weaken the bill and the Democrats as a whole is clearly the case regardless of your feelings about the minimal Public Option and Medicare buy in. Its clear that Lieberman's goal is to cripple both negotiations and the bill). What that means is that the more good things get put into the Conference Bill the more Lieberman will fight to have them taken out--I'm thinking of things that will specifically be pleasing to the base such as moving up the timing of some of the goodies.
But Lieberman himself is a shifting set of spites. Now that we've had our first Terrorist attack of the Obama years and Lieberman will be leaping to the fore in his role as Committee Chair for Homeland Security I see vast new arenas opening for Lieberman to exercise his bitter hatreds. Whatever he promised Obama and the Dems before the last cloture vote about the next Cloture Vote is now null and void. All bets are off. Lieberman is going to do something dreadful with the double power he now has as the "sixtieth vote" on everything. Before the Senate Bill was finalized I suggested that Obama and Reid should have made explicit "linkages" between parts of the bill that they really wanted (if, for example, they really wanted the Public Option) and goodies that the Senators wanted outside the bill. In Lieberman's case I suggested things having to do with Israel, or offering him an Ambassadorship to a desirable country, or both. I don't think Obama and Reid ever did anything quite that direct, although they were certainly willing to buy off Nelson with a quid pro quo when that was offered. Whatever went on in those negotiations I think Lieberman has proven himself a master at getting what he wants in and out of negotiations--look at the way he double crossed the Democrats on the Public Option/Medicare Buy in Swap--and he is now going to be making "linkages" between his Health Care Vote and his role in Homeland Security. That's just the way he does things.
Previously, even a day ago, I was opposed to the ping ponging of the bill. I hoped that a conference report might, with the good wind at its back, materially improve the bill and still squeak through the Senate's sixty vote bottleneck. Now I'm sure that Lieberman is going to step up and screw us if he can, when he can. Just imagine his puffed up self hectoring us about how irresponsible it is to spend money on health care when there are terrorists attacking us in our valued cities, like Detroit?
I recommend that Obama, Reid, and Pelosi take what they can get--push the Senate version of the bill through as is and then fix every bit of it they can as it relates to the budget through Reconciliation. Do it fast and without warning. And make the terrorist attack your excuse, if you want. Say "the country has been through enough and we need to get on with things. We believe this bill is very good and we can fix the parts that need fixing through reconciliation in a timely manner." And then just do it. Lieberman will be left with his mouth hanging open and the majority of the bill will be irrevocable. But promise the progressives that they will absolutely be able to get the rest of their initiatives through the reconciliation process and hew to that promise. It will be the best of all possible worlds.
Edited to add the link to "wobbling Senators" up above.