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Who's The Villain -- House Or Senate?

Jonathan Bernstein argues that the House has hoodwinked liberals into thinking the Senate is the problem, when in fact it's the House that needs to act:

the House appears to be so focused on how the Senate always betrays them that they've missed the ways in which this situation is different: they can just turn the tables on the Senate by passing the Senate bill, and then send over the reconciliation patch.  Remember, the patch is (or at least can be) filled with mainly politically appealing items: repealing the Nelson deal, shifting from Cadillac tax to taxing rich folks, and eliminating lifetime caps.*  Perhaps Republicans would try to block it anyway, but as I've said, that's much better ground for the Democrats to contest than the original complex bill.

And the worst-case scenario for reforms supporters if the Senate bill passes the House is...the Senate bill, which everyone who supports any of the plausible outcomes agrees is better than nothing. 

What the House proposes instead is to wait until the Senate acts on reconciliation, or at least until they get an ironclad guarantee of such action.  The former could take months, and may never happen; the latter is never going to pass the House's skepticism about the other body.  Instead of trying to figure out a way to get the Senate to assure that House that they'll act, what the House should do if they want reform is to give the Senate incentives to act.  Pass and patch does that if the House passes the Senate bill now.

I think this is mostly correct. Fixing the Senate bill takes time, but as a matter of votes, it's easy. The patch, as Bernstein notes, is mostly popular stuff that nobody in the Senate is going to want to oppose. (Do they want to go on record in favor of keeping the "Cornhusker Kickback"?) More importantly, the patch only requires 50 votes. The whole reason the House distrusts the Senate is that the Senate has a filibuster, which has meant that every single Democrat must hold together in the fact of GOP obstructionism in order to pass anything substantial. To pass a reconciliation patch, the Senate can afford to lose nine Democrats, which makes it a piece of cake. Which is to say, the House is acting irrationally. It needs to pass the Senate bill and trust that 50 Democrats can be found to carry out a verbal agreement.

The flip side, of course, is that the irrational distrust of the Senate is part of what gives the House leverage here. In a negotiation where both sides have a strong incentive to compromise but the parameters of agreement are wide, the side that can more credibly threaten to walk away has an advantage -- which is to say, the crazy man wins.

So most reforms advocates have accepted the irrationality of the House and are now urging the Senate to accommodate it. That may or may not be the correct approach. But it certainly doesn't let the House off the hook.