There are three groups in any important Senate debate.
- The majority, without which a bill does not come to the floor.
- The minority, who look for any way in which to stop the majority from acting.
- The smallest minority, those in the middle, the weakest links on both sides of the question.
This is now playing out and, as is always the case, it's those in the middle who have the most power. (Shown is the 1995 Capitol Christmas tree, courtesy of the U.S. Senate. Nice, Republican tree.)
Conventional wisdom holds the most contentious issues are abortion and the public option. But there are a lot of moving parts to this bill. The Senate majority is looking for a combination of amendments that they can swallow but will allow the bill to get the 60 votes needed to end debate.
One idea getting attention from moderate Republican Olympia Snowe and moderate Democrat Blanche Lincoln is to allow the creation of nationwide plans that override state insurance regulations.
Another idea is to focus less on the public option and more on the creation of health insurance exchanges, creating affordable coverage for individuals and small businesses.
Whatever the final formula turns out to be Republicans will oppose it. The minority has no obligation to support what the majority wants. But no matter how liberals are squeezed in the next few weeks, it's very likely something will pass because they believe the status quo is unsustainable.
Look for whatever it is under your Christmas tree. And expect it to look like a Christmas tree, with a bunch of amendments forced on the many by the very few.
That's how the sausage factory works. Sage is just an herb.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com