Neither Reid nor Pelosi have the Votes

Like robots programed to march until they find a cliff and can march no longer, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi have been forced into the most contorted public position on any legislation — perhaps ever.

Senator Durbin (D-IL), the U.S. Senate Majority Whip said yesterday that the left forced the Democrat’s hand, and we’ll “see where we come out.” (H/T Huffington Post.) Sen. Durbin did not say: we have the votes, we will win, but he said, we’ll see — read: we do not have the votes and don’t know if we will get the votes because we have not written the bill yet, nor have we scored it.

If either the Speaker or the Senate Majority Leader had the votes, they would be voting on the bill now.

Here is what Pelosi’s public-facing contortion looks like:

a) We must have a public option;

b) we will have a public option; and,

c) the royal we, have the votes for a public option.

But the reality for Speaker Pelosi, who tried the group-peer-pressure-routine on non-compliant House members on Friday in an emergency all-Dem House caucus meeting, is actually inverted:

a) the royal we, do not have the votes for a public option; and, therefore,

b) we may not have a public option; and,

c) the left will be disappointed but the votes are not there so we will just keep our base happy and tell them we tried.

This reality is too real, too hard, too unthinkable. But the unthinkable is being thunk (ok, so it’s a fun word): the auto-insistence that “we have the votes” masks a reality too difficult to thunk — so let’s all in the Leadership not think about it and insist that the night is day. Much better, don’t you think?

For the U.S. Majority Leader Harry Reid, his contortion looks like this, as described by the invaluable-bio-intel-collection-system known as Milbank (who writes for WaPo):

“What Harry Reid did Monday afternoon gave new meaning to the phrase “public option.”

The Senate majority leader, after haggling behind closed doors with members of his Democratic caucus, realized that he couldn’t cobble together the 60 votes he needed to pass health-care legislation with a government-run health plan. So Reid chose another option: He shut down the private talks, booked the Senate TV studio and went public with his own proposal.

“I’ve concluded,” he told the roomful of cameras and reporters, “that the best way to move forward is to include a public option.”

For Reid, it was an admission of the formidable power of liberal interest groups. He had been the target of a petition drive and other forms of pressure to bring the public option to the floor, and Monday’s move made him an instant hero on the left. Americans United for Change hailed him for refusing “to buckle in the face of withering pressure from the big insurance companies.” MoveOn.org admired his “leadership in standing up to the special interests.”

Reid, facing a difficult reelection contest next year at home in Nevada, will need such groups to bring Democrats to the polls if he is to survive. But there were a few problems with the leader’s solo move. He shifted the public pressure from himself to half a dozen moderates in his caucus. And he defied the Obama White House, which had hoped to keep a bipartisan patina on health-care reform by maintaining the support of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

Then there was the small matter of lacking the votes to pass the public option. “Do you feel 100 percent sure right now that you have the 60 votes?” CNN’s Dana Bash inquired. Reid looked down at the lectern. He looked up at the ceiling. He chuckled. He put his palms together as if in prayer. Then he spoke. “My caucus believes strongly there should be health-care reform” was the non sequitur he offered.

Bash reminded the leader that she had asked him “particularly on this idea of a public option.”

Instead of answering, Reid, with a Zen expression, looked to the back of the room to solicit a question from somebody else. But Bash piped up again. “Senator Reid, with all due respect, is it possible to answer the question on whether or not you have the votes?”

“I believe we clearly will have the support of my caucus to move to this bill and start legislating,” he replied, which also didn’t answer the question.”

The quote above about Senator Reid is taken from Dana Milbank’s column today in the Washington Post titled “Harry Reid, shopping for reelection insurance.”

Senator Reid has a consensus for discovering on the Senate floor, what the consensus really is — and it may just be that the consensus is that Senators would rather not take a series of tough votes on taxes, spending, the deficit, abortion, illegal immigration, guns, Medicare cuts, the public option and an increase of government control and interference in daily American life.

Ultimately, for U.S. Senators’ whose prime directive is to stay in the U.S. Senate, health care reform on the Senate floor is beginning to look like a no-win-electoral-strength-sapping-exercise, which can be ended quickly, with a handful of Democrats voting not to end the 100% certain filibuster.

Why take dozens of tough votes, which touch on every thermonuclear political issue in the United States, when you can, instead, take only one vote that spin up the uber-left but keep every other nterest group known to man not angry at you, and make a majority of independents happy too?

The political calculation leans heavily in favor of, you know, come to mention it, I’d, uh, rather not. Unless everyone is acting irrationally, i.e., not acting in their own interest, I expect this calculation to be the dominant one.

And note to historians, this political calculation has nothing to do with health policy, which everyone will continue to say needs reform. The foregoing is why Democrats and Republicans would rather talk about reforming health care, rather than doing health care reform. Over-reaching is endemic and politically lethal in health care reform, but the reform illusion is sure fun to live in.