What Specter Means for Healthcare

by Brien Jackson

Ezra Klein wonders how important Specter’s switch will be for healthcare reform, noting that Specter seems to care an awful lot about reform, and that he was already a likely vote as a Republican. I’ve been trying to game out the incentives for various Senators with Specter effectively in the caucus, and the only thing I can come up with is that Specter as a Democrat makes healthcare reform slighly more inevitable, and may preclude the need for reconcilliation.

Obviously I’m as familiar as anyone with the difficulty of keeping the Democratic caucus together on any vote, so I’m certainly not under the impression that having 60 votes means Harry Reid can pass whatever he wants. Still, healthcare isn’t just another issue, especially not to Democrats. Healthcare reform has been a central principle of the Democratic Party since at least the mid 1990’s. Every Democratic nominee for President since Clinton has enthusiastically supported universal healthcare, and in 2008 every single candidate for President in the Democratic primary supported universal healthcare. It’s not, in other words, an omnibus spending bill, where people will forget your vote in a couple of months anyway and you’re not in danger of killing final passage. Any Democrat who votes against healthcare reform will take a significant hit with more or less every Democratic constituency. Evan Bayh would like to be President of the United States some day, but voting against healthcare reform would make him persona non grata in the national Democratic Party. Arlen Specter can’t vote against reform and expect to survive a Democratic primary in a blue state, even if Jesus Christ himself was trying to keep the field clear for him. Blanche Lincoln has no constituency in Arkansas to be won over by opposing reform. Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu could, in theory, oppose the bill, but to what end? With reconcilliation instructions included there’s no way 2 Democrats can kill the bill, and that’s without considering that the Maine Senators may very possibly vote for the final proposal. With that in mind, any Democrat who votes against healthcare reform, and especially any Democrat who joins a filibuster against healthcare reform, will get all of the scorn and future complications of the vote with no demonstratable benefit. I just don’t see any Democrats who are going to see utility in such a vote.