So, for the last couple of days, I've been going through the mechanics of passing healthcare reform, and I've been explaining that I thought the Senate GOP had pretty much gotten over the last major hurdle in terms of reaching 50 votes (plus Mike Pence) for passing something through the Senate. And then yesterday, Dean Heller came along and threw a wrench in everything. The Senator from Nevada really could kill this whole thing. Yesterday, I said we were at around a coin toss for passage of something. Bayesian update for the morning: 40% chance of passage, to pull a number out of my ass. We're now below a coin toss.
First, some basic vote counting. In order for the Senate to pass anything, they can lose two votes. That would be Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. They are true moderates. The House Freedom Caucus? They are batshit crazy, and they would rather keep Obamacare in place than support anything that isn't way, way, way to the right. Collins and Murkowski won't vote for anything the House Freedom Caucus will support, and the House can't pass anything without the Freedom Caucus. That means Collins and Murkowski are probably out of the game. That puts the vote count in the Senate at 50 plus Mike Pence for anything realistic. The Senate can't lose anyone else. I've been focused on Rob Portman, Shelley Moore Capito, Cory Gardner and Bill Cassidy because the former three signed a letter about Medicaid expansion, and the latter co-authored a proposal with Collins. Once the letter cosignatories backed down and Cassidy divorced Collins, it looked clear to me, and I don't take seriously the chest-thumpings of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee or Ron Johnson. They're fake tough-guys, and I don't buy that shit. Disingenuous bullshit from whiny, little fucking twerps who want to pretend that they are in charge of everything. Here's what I have to say to those four:
Dean Heller? He came out of nowhere. He's been quiet the whole time, and maybe that's a consequence of McConnell's through-a-committee-darkly strategy. Still, Heller has taken a moderate stance, joining Collins and Murkowski as a skeptic from the left. If he votes no, along with Collins and Murkowski, this thing is sunk. If he demands that the bill move left to satisfy him, the concern is not really that the bill loses support from Rand Paul or Ted Cruz. Even if the bill made it out of the Senate, the result would be unpalatable to the Freedom Caucus, and it would fail after the House and Senate versions are reconciled. Either way, you'd have a dead(ite) bill.
So, I come back to the question: who the fuck is Dean Heller?
You think I am asking some biographical question. I'm not. I'm asking an historical reference question. In 2010, when the Democrats were struggling to pass their bill, several Senators wound up playing critical roles. Consider three in particular: Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Joe Lieberman. Nelson and Landrieu were moderates who were willing to be bought off. They were nervous about voting for Obamacare, but decided that if the bill included pots of money for their respective states (Nebraska and Louisiana), they would relent and vote yes. Lieberman? His story was more complicated. He kept forcing the bill to the right on substance. There were serious questions about his commitment to any kind of real policy goals, but he did move the bill on ideology. After all, at one point, Democrats proposed reducing the age of Medicare eligibility, which was a proposal that Lieberman had formerly championed, and Lieberman thought long-and-hard about it, so-to-speak, until Mr. Long-and-Hard, Anthony Weiner, announced that he loved the idea, at which point Lieberman trashed his own policy proposal because the left liked it too much. (This was, by the way, before Weiner fell-- he was still riding high as a champion of the left back in 2010).
Since the Democrats had no room to maneuver in 2010, everyone's demands had to be met. Nelson and Landrieu were bought off with the "Louisiana purchase" and the "Cornhusker kickback,"* while Lieberman kept playing Mr. Indecisive in order to make Harry Reid give in to his every whim (and I do mean "whim" since he didn't appear to have any principles, having trashed his own policy proposals once Weiner supported them), but everyone got what they demanded.
Now, who is Dean Heller? Is he Ben Nelson/Mary Landrieu? If so, he can be bought off without moving the bill to the left, and this thing ain't dead yet. If he is Lieberman, then he'll demand that the bill get moved left, in which case the end result will be something that the House Freedom Caucus won't support, and even if it gets through the Senate, the whole thing dies after the House and Senate bills get reconciled because the House won't pass the reconciled version.
It isn't clear what Heller wants. But, he has a LOT of power right now.
*The post-script, of course, is that both the Louisiana purchase and the Cornhusker kickback were repealed in a budget reconciliation bill immediately after the House passed the Senate's version of the ACA, and since budget reconciliation bills can't be filibustered, it didn't matter that Harry Reid couldn't count on Nelson or Landrieu's votes for that bill. So, Nelson and Landrieu got totally screwed on that! Awesome, right? Lesson to Dean Heller: don't cut deals like that. McConnell is probably more of a douchebag than Reid, and he'll fuck you twice as hard.