More people emailed about health care, mostly because of Ted Kennedy dying, and what I think is that Ted Kennedy’s death will matter not one whit in the final accounting as to whether or not health care reform passes in the United States. The Republicans trying to kill reform may have liked Kennedy personally, but they weren’t willing to compromise with him when he was alive; dead Ted Kennedy will have about as much power over them as the Dead Kennedys do. (I am told Chuck Grassley is a secret fan of Jello Biafra, but personally do not believe it.)
No, what matters in the final accounting is how Democrats support health care reform. By this point, the antics of conservative Democrats have grown remarkable, and it’s only really the traditions of American politics that keep Ben Nelson in his party. Which of course begs the question:
Why don’t they just kick him out?
Or, at the very least, threaten to. Let’s be clear: in any Parliamentary-style system anywhere else in the world, an MP behaving as contra-party as Nelson has – with Kent Conrad and Mary Landrieu not far behind – would be turfed, and turfed quickly. Granted, American political parties aren’t quite as heirarchical or organized and a degree of freedom is expected – but all that is required of conservative Democrats, for the most part, is that they not filibuster health care reform. They can vote against it all they like (well, to the tune of nine votes).
That Nelson in particular is flirting with it should trigger those threats. Yes, if Ben Nelson gets kicked out of the Democratic party that is one less vote for any Democratic majority, to be sure. But when the majority is in the high fifties without him, Ben Nelson’s sole value to the Democratic agenda he opposes is that he not filibuster; his vote is effectively worthless.
The threat is not without value: in Nelson’s case, he loses his seniority on all his committees; Nelson is just coming into his own and in a term or two, as a Democrat, will likely chair a major committee. As a newly-minted Republican, that will likely not happen any time soon. This of course also assumes Nelson will survive re-election in 2012 as a Republican, and despite his personal popularity in his state that is not a given; the uncertainty of a potential primary and the loss of Democratic funding support can’t make things less shaky.
But what I like most about it is that it’s a move of strength. The Democratic push on health care reform has been cautious. Timid, even. If the Democratic leadership wants it – and they should – they need to show some balls, make it seem like they want it rather than just feel obligated. They need to tell their slackers where the door is, and how far they can go before it hits their ass on the way out. And “how far” should not be far at all.