(photo: joelogon)

(photo: joelogon)

I’m surprised this keeps coming up, but Jonathan Cohn takes another stab at the theory that the health care bill does not rest on the fate of Martha Coakley in Massachusetts. In doing so, he rules out two of the three options for passage. He says that Olympia Snowe does not appear to be gettable any longer, and that getting the bill passed quickly before Scott Brown would be sworn in is also unlikely.

Therefore, he says (and actually Cohn’s relaying the thoughts of some Democratic insiders here), the House would simply pass the Senate’s bill, and be done with it.

Such a move could be quick; unless I’m mistaken, the House could hold such a vote this week. It would also be perfectly legitimate: When a chamber votes to pass a bill, as the Senate did when it passed health care reform on Christmas Eve, it’s effectively offering to make that bill a law, pending the other chamber’s approval. And that offer is good through the end of the Congress, even if the chamber’s membership changes.

Would House Democrats go along? It’s hardly a given. Centrists, many of them as ambivalent about reform as their Senate counterparts, would be tempted to use Coakley’s defeat as an excuse for voting “no.” Liberals, meanwhile, would chafe at supporting a bill that includes so many unpleasant compromises.

But there are good substantive reasons why both sides should be willing to vote “yes.” And there are some good political reasons, as well.

If this were just a case of the merits of the bill, that could be the case. Enough of the 39 conservative Dems would see the Senate bill as closer to their priorities for health care reform to offset liberals who may defect. And House liberals always seem to come back to the herd anyway.

But that treats passage of the Senate bill in a post-Brown environment as a policy and not a political problem. Cohn says that anyone who has already voted for the bill has sealed their fate on it in terms of attack ads, but that doesn’t account for those who, in Cohn’s world would flip their vote to Yes after a Republican was elected in Massachusetts largely on the slogan that he would be the 41st vote to block health care. As Ben Smith notes, there would be mass panic (Mass panic?) in the caucus, and people don’t usually pass political courage tests in that environment.

And you would have to get some flippers, because the pool of 220 votes from when the House passed their bill in November is gone. Robert Wexler resigned, dropping it to 219. Setting aside the fact that the affordability credits aren’t good enough for the House, the excise tax deal with unions would be invalidated, the exchanges would be state-based, and all the rest – just on the abortion issue alone, and remember the Nelson amendment is in the Senate bill, which Bart Stupak has derided, you probably lose a dozen more. It’s pretty confirmed that you’d lose three – Stupak, Republican Joseph Cao, and Steve Dreihaus.

Democratic Rep. Steve Driehaus said he will oppose any version of health care reform legislation that doesn’t clearly prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for abortions.

“I believe in clarity and simplicity, and we should make it simple and clear that taxpayer funds aren’t going to abortion coverage,” said Driehaus, an anti-abortion Catholic from West Price Hill.

Dreihaus is the guy who’s down by 17 points for re-election in the latest poll, so he’s probably dying to come off the bill anyway. So a bill with no negotiating room on abortion won’t fly, because those dozen or so Stupak holdouts won’t have much of a problem tanking it. And that’s presuming every liberal swallows hard and takes the bill as it is.

If something is to pass should Brown win, it would only be available through reconciliation – ask Chris Van Hollen. Heck, ask John Podesta, as David Gregory did on Meet the Press yesterday:

I think that there are paths forward and that the, the Congress will find a way to pass healthcare reform because they know they absolutely have to do that having gotten this far. And there, there are a variety of different paths.

I think that the one thing I disagreed with about–that [a previous speaker] said was I don’t think the, the White House would be happy with just the Senate bill passing. I think they want to see some changes and they have to find a way through reconciliation [or some other way.]

David Dayen

David Dayen