Michael Barone

There is another problem. The Senate bill lacks the amendment sponsored by House Democrat Bart Stupak banning abortion coverage, and Stupak says that he and about 10 other Democrats will accordingly vote no. That leaves Pelosi around 205. She may have commitments from former no voters to switch to yes (especially from three who've announced they're retiring), but she doesn't have more than 10 other votes in her pocket -- or she wouldn't have accepted the Stupak amendment.

So the House wants the Senate to go first and pass changes to its bill through the reconciliation process that requires 51 rather than 60 votes. But Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad says that you can't use reconciliation on a bill that hasn't already become law. And reconciliation is probably not available on abortion issues.

All of which reminds me of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' attempt to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2005. Stevens got it in the reconciliation process in the Senate, where it had 51 but not 60 votes. But House Republicans couldn't get it into reconciliation, even though a majority of House members were for it. The Senate could pass it by reconciliation but not regular order; the House could pass it by regular order but not reconciliation. Result: It never passed.

There are two differences here. ANWR drilling would have little effect on most Americans. The health care bill would affect almost everybody -- by raising taxes, cutting Medicare spending, abolishing current insurance -- as Republicans pointed out in Blair House.

The second difference is that ANWR drilling was reasonably popular with the public, and there were majorities in both houses for it. Neither is true of the Democrats' health care bills today.

Last month, we were told that Obama would switch his focus from health care to jobs. But Democrats have spent February and seem about to spend March focusing on health care. It's hard to see how they can navigate the legislative process successfully -- and even harder to see how they turn around public opinion. Summit flop indeed.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM