Bad News: Health-Care Wars Have Just Begun

I hate to say this, but the health-care debate has only just begun. You'd think, as Barack Obama told us the other week, that everything that could be said has been said—and that everyone has had a chance to say it. White House aides dream of a time when they can "pivot" and move on to other, less nettlesome topics.

Um, no.

In both the short and long term, health care will continue to be front and center for the foreseeable future in politics.

Having driven the president's numbers into the floor with jackhammer opposition to his reform crusade, Republicans are certainly not going to let a little "yes" vote (if it even happens in the House) stop them.

The GOP is erecting row after row of traps.

The first, of course, is the Senate. If the House package passes, the Republicans will raise point-of-order "Byrd rule" budget-process objections, and, with 41-vote ironclad unity (there's a letter), will prevent Dems from overruling them.

The short-term tactical aim, GOP Hill sources tell me, is to prevent the Senate from taking action before spring recess.

"That's the Democrats' worst nightmare," says a top GOP aide in the Senate. "They have to go home and hear all the attacks on the bill before a final vote."

The vice president, in his role as president of the Senate, could try to overrule GOP points of order from the chair, but doing so would not only be a rare and sensational move, it "would destroy the Senate as we know it," one top GOP aide told me apocalyptically. I wasn't sure what he meant, but he seemed to think that the move was unlikely—and Dem aides have told me the same thing.

Once Obama signs the core bill—assuming he has a chance to—the next phase of the health-care wars will begin.

GOP attorneys general will challenge its legality; Republican-controlled state legislatures will vow not to enforce it; and GOP candidates will pick out pieces of the bill to cry havoc about: Medicare cuts, tax increases (even though they're focused on upper-income types), short-term budget deficits (though the measure is supposed to save $1 trillion in the long run).

They will decry the Dems' parliamentary methods—even though the GOP perfected many of them.

Republicans are eager to paint Obama as Juan Perón, and America as Argentina (and Obama, like Perón, likes to take off his well-tailored suit coat at rallies with a dramatic flourish, to speak to the working-class porteños in his shirtsleeves). Which, if you follow the analogy, makes the GOP the junta, but they don't seem to mind.