Like a famous physics cat, the health care bill is in a state of quantum uncertainty. As strange as it may sound, the health care bill is simultaneously both alive and dead. Only when we are able to see inside the box that is the House Democratic Caucus will this uncertainty be resolved. Then we will see that the bill is either alive or dead. My money is on dead.

For Tuesday’s and Sunday’s columns I will show the predictions I made assuming Brown won:

Today Tuesday 19 Jan Sunday 17 Jan
Ram it through 1% 10% 25%
House folds 15% 30% 25%
Reconciliation 1% 1% 3%
Deal with Snowe 1% 2% 2%
Two bills, aka House folds “with a reconciliation sidecar” 5% 2%
Collapse 77% 45% 45%

The bill is alive …

  • Enacting some kind of health care reform is the President’s top policy priority. While he is weaker than he was Monday, he is still by far the most powerful person in Washington. The President’s priorities matter, and he would prefer a comprehensive bill.
  • It’s not dead until the Speaker says it’s dead. She appears to be working hard to sell the two bill strategy to her colleagues.
  • Had Martha Coakley won Massachusetts, even by the slimmest of margins, I think there would have been a 90% chance of getting a comprehensive law by the end of February. The overwhelming majority of Congressional Democrats would prefer this path were it still possible.
  • 220 House Members and 60 Senators have already voted for a comprehensive bill, and the two bills are quite substantively close.
  • There are procedural paths to a signed law that do not require 60 votes. These paths are difficult but not impossible.

… and dead

  • It appears there are not today 218 votes in the House for any bill, nor 60 votes in the Senate.
  • Congressional Democrats are in chaos.
  • Team Obama is sending mixed signals. Speaking with George Stephanopoulos, the President appeared to signal openness to negotiating incremental changes with Republicans. His staff later published an ambiguous clarification. The President’s first signal seriously wounded an already ailing bill.
  • It appears the Speaker and Team Obama are exploring different strategies.
  • Over the past 24 hours prominent officials have been publicly ruling out options. Every time this happens it limits flexibility and makes future decisions harder.


President Obama took the ram it through option off the table yesterday in his interview with George Stephanopoulos, later reinforced by Leader Reid. The Senate will not try to pass legislation with 60 votes before Senator-elect Brown is seated. I have therefore reduced my prediction for this option from 10% to 1%. (Never say never.)

And since no one appears to be pushing the House folds option, including Team Obama, I am cutting its probability in half to 15%. This is still the cleanest way to get a comprehensive bill, but yesterday House liberals were rebelling. This option is, I think, the most uncertain, and the probability could easily jump over the next week if House liberals decide something is better than nothing.

The reconciliation (only) strategy seems to be considered inferior to the two bills option which Speaker Pelosi is apparently pushing. Updated intel suggests that bringing Senator Snowe around to become vote #60 is highly unlikely. I am increasing my probability for the two bills option not because I think it will work, but because the Speaker appears to be pushing it.

That leaves a whopping 77% chance the bill collapses with a thud, the highest I have ever predicted.

Tomorrow I will look at four different forms of “collapse.”

I close with two questions for insiders:

Q1: Suppose you took the already House-passed bill to the House floor today. Could the House pass it?

Q2: Suppose you took the Senate-passed bill to the Senate floor today. Could the Senate invoke cloture on it?

(photo credit: Gandalf’s other kitten by alasam)