A Blue Dog Strategy for Passing the Kucinich Amendment

I’ve been engaged in an email exchange with David Swanson about the Kucinich amendment, which encourages single payer health care at the state level. He wanted to know why we weren’t pressing members of Congress on it. Without going into a long exchange, basically I asked him what the strategy was for getting something past the Blue Dogs. Because if you don’t have one, it’s a futile effort.

There are 257 Democrats in the House. It takes 218 to have a majority. Assuming all the Republicans vote against something, you can only lose 39 votes and still pass something. There are 55 Blue Dogs. Even if you hold every other Democrat in the caucus, and that’s a big if, you still have to get 16 Blue Dogs to vote with you to pass something.

How are you going to do it? Well, you have to have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, and you’re fighting to keep the health care from passing, you’re telling the people who might be helped by it — even if it’s a bad bill — that they should go without health care just because you don’t have your shit together.

So, how does one go about moving the Blue Dogs? With the public plan whip count effort, we used the fact that Obama campaigned on the public plan to leverage Rahm into pressing the Blue Dogs. The Democrats need to pass health care or there will be bad electoral consequences, everyone agrees. If the progressives refuse to vote for a health care bill without a public plan and the Blue Dogs and conservadems refuse to vote for one that has a public plan, one of them has to give. Since 76% of the country wants a public plan and Obama has said he supports one, you try to keep narrowing Rahm’s choices so that he either has to beat up the Blue Dogs or fail to pass health care. You’re betting the price of failure will be too high.

It’s a long shot, but it’s a plan.

Obama didn’t campaign on single payer and wants to preserve the private insurance system, so the same plan is not going to work for the Kucinich amendment. You’ve got to find something the Blue Dogs want, and barter with them. There are 85 cosponsors of H.R. 676, the Single Payer bill. How can those 85 leverage their numbers to … er, encourage the Blue Dogs to see the light?

Well, I told David that you’ve got to find something the Blue Dogs want. As an example — of the 28 Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee, 18 are Blue Dogs. It’s probably the most corrupt committee in either house, and it’s totally in the tank for Big Ag. The farm bill passes once every 4 years and it passed last year so there’s not much you can do there, but every year there is a supplemental agriculture appropriations bill that gets passed every year.

This year’s bill just passed the House. Now the Senate will be taking up the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill, in which they trying to insert the National Animal ID System — a total giveaway to Big Ag that puts the small farmer at a serious disadvantage. Jon Tester is going to try to cut the funding, but the bottom line is that this bill pays for a bunch of shit that the Blue Dogs really, really want.

When it passed the House, the vote was 266-160. Of the 86 cosponsors of H.R. 676, only one — Marcia Fudge — voted against it. If 68 of them threatened to switch their votes on the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, the Single Payer cosponsors could defeat the bill when it comes back to the House if the Blue Dogs don’t join them on the Kucinich amendment. They’d potentially be messing with a lot of states in addition to just the Blue Dog districts, but hey, this is hard ball.

It isn’t the only Blue Dog strategy, but it is a strategy. Single Payer advocates would still have to whip for the rest of the votes. It wouldn’t be an easy job by any means. Ideally you come into Committee ready to deal, knowing what everyone else wants and what you want and where you can make alliances in order to get that. It wouldn’t be pretty and unholy hell would break lose, but if the 676 cosponsors like Jared Polis and Jan Schakowsky are really committed to the idea of passing Single Payer, they ought to be willing to take it on.

And Dennis Kucinich is just the man to lead it.

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