Not to convey any sense of optimism whatsoever about the prospects for meaningful health care reform, but the fact that Evan Bayh, Blanche Lincoln and Ben Nelson oppose “fixing” their own bill via reconciliation is neither surprising nor particularly impactful, as in a 50-vote environment, all are well to the right of the veto point. I don’t know to what extent discussions on the strategy have begun in earnest, but if Democratic negotiators have any brains, you’d think they’d know better than to worry about what Bayh, Nelson, Lincoln, Mary Landrieu or Joe Lieberman are thinking about and see what’s doable with some combination of the other 54 votes. If Bayh et. al. want to vote for the sidecar anyway, bully for them, and likewise if they think they can squeeze some sort of electoral advantage out of opposing it. But they’re no longer important.
Indeed, one of the few “perks” of Scott Brown’s victory and the strong likelihood of further Republican gains in the Senate in November is that we’ll likely avoid the situation we saw for much of 2009 where one or two Senators had a disproportionate amount of power and could hold the entire chamber hostage. If there are, say, 53-55 Democrats remaining after the dust settles in November, policy will be formulated by a fairly broad number of moderate Democratic and Republican Senators, perhaps numbering a dozen or more depending on the issue at hand and whether the Democrats are proceeding in a 50-vote environment or a supermajority one.
If you start to see Senators that are closer to the veto point make uncomfortable noises about reconciliation — someone like Claire McCaskill or Nelson of Florida or Mark Warner — that’s when you’ll know that the strategy is doomed.