But Reid has one important weapon. He does not need 60 votes in support of a health care reform plan he needs only 50 (with Vice President Joseph Biden in the chair to break a tie). He needs 60 only to invoke cloture and overcome a filibuster. If Reid can convince his team to view a filibuster as a procedural issue that the key test of party loyalty is not voting for a health care reform plan but allowing the Senate to vote up or down on it his task becomes much easier, and he can avoid the awkward and unpalatable alternative of reconciliation.
That is why Sen. Joe Liebermans (ID-Conn.) comments last week were so interesting. Lieberman expressed great unease for the Senate Finance Committee plan and said he would vote against it if it were the plan. But Lieberman did not say that he would join a filibuster against it. Reid needs to craft a bill that makes sense fiscally and substantively. If he can also get Lieberman and his colleagues to agree not to support a filibuster or other comparable delaying maneuvers, he has a clear path to Senate passage. And we have a clear path to a nice Christmas present for the president.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.