WHAT THE SEBELIUS VOTE TELLS US ABOUT HEALTH CARE REFORM.

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Kathleen Sebelius mustered 65 votes in the Senate yesterday. That's something of a victory for Anti-abortion zealots managed to muster fairly -- though not totally -- united opposition among Republicans. Matt Yglesias looks at this and says, "if you can only get 65 votes for what should be an uncontroversial HHS appointment, then the odds of a broad bipartisan coalition for big picture health care reform are not so good."

I think that's right. On the other hand, you don't need a broad bipartisan coalition. You only need a small bipartisan coalition. Or, if you could achieve full Democratic unity, no bipartisan coalition at all. The point of the bill is passing it, not passing it pretty. That, at the end of the day, is why the administration insisted on including the reconciliation process. Ramming the bill through with 50 votes isn't the most elegant way to pass health care reform. But it's better, they seem to have decided, than not passing health care reform. The voters aren't big on awarding style points.

I'd also suggest that the Sebelius vote is more akin to a farm subsidy vote than a piece of major social policy legislation. So long as Sebelius is confirmed, the actual vote total is only of interest to the anti-abortion groups who are trying to show symbolic opposition to her record. As such, voting against Sebelius had no consequences for Republicans. Voting for Sebelius did. That might have changed had they held the votes to actually doom her nomination. But insofar as they didn't have that power, casting irresponsible votes is one of the few delights afforded to powerless minorities. You wouldn't want to take that away from them, would you?

More analogous, I'd suggest, is the budget vote. And the budget just passed with the House with exactly zero Republican votes. More important than whether Republicans will vote for health care is whether Democrats wrongly imagine that they'll vote for health care. The real danger was that promises of Republican cooperation would lead to a Democratic strategy predicated on substantial Republican votes. That didn't happen. Instead, Democrats are assuming the absence of significant Republican support and moving ahead on a strategy that leaves space for them at the table but can succeed even if they never enter the room.

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