Saturday night's 60–39 vote was certainly a bad sign for Republicans hoping to defeat the Democratic effort for a trillion-dollar health overhaul. Sen. Tom Coburn asked the Congressional Research Service how often winning the motion-to-proceed vote has led to final passage of a bill. From 1999 to 2008, CRS found that the answer has been a depressing 97.6 percent. This calls into question the statements by Blue Dog Democrats that they are only voting to begin debate and do not necessarily support the final product.
Yet while Democrats have reason to be optimistic, this is not yet over. Republicans need to do two things going forward. The first, in the short term, is to continue to point out the many holes in the House and Senate bills — both are important targets, as the final product that comes through some type of House-Senate conference will likely include elements of both bills. The votes were quite close in both the House and the Senate, and there are a variety of sticking points, most notably on cost, abortion, and the public option, that cause internecine strife among the Democrats. Highlighting the Democratic differences on these issues could still manage to defeat the trillion-dollar package speeding towards the finish line, but it will also lay important groundwork for the next two elections.
The second is to come up with an alternative that Republicans can sell to the American people in 2010 and 2012. Jeff Anderson and I took a crack at this on NRO last week by proposing an approach that would lower premiums, cut the number of uninsured by 15 million, and cost a fraction of what the Democratic efforts would spend. It's easy for Republicans to say no when faced with such bad bills, but the way back to a majority is by proposing real solutions to knotty problems.