You have to marvel at the American political system, and I mean that in a positive way.

Designed in the 18th century, it has the air of an 18th-century machine — weighted, bored, cantilevered, the parts moving in and out of each other like Mr Babbage’s difference engine.

Though new parts have been added over the years, the design remains the same, unchanged because unchangeable. Among Thomas Jefferson’s achievements was the invention of the swivel chair, and the US government is very much in that spirit.

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So it’s in that spirit that one now regards the next step in Barack Obama’s long march to a health-care Bill — a 60-39 Senate vote in favour of taking the Bill to a debate.

Majority leader Harry Reid needed every Democrat plus Connecticut scumbag Joe Lieberman to even get the Bill to this stage, and he got them — a considerable achievement given the nervousness of “Blue Dog” Democrats about even consenting to consider the “public option”.

Ominously, they couldn’t get a single Republican to support even this preliminary vote to debate the measure.

So now — this is the cantilevered bit — the Senate Bill and the recently passed House Bill on health-care have to go to a series of cross-party meetings in which two 1500-page-plus Bills are somehow combined into a compromise.

In reality, whole sections from each will be stitched together, and then an army of junior lawyers will work through it for glaring contradictions, but it will be the thirstiest of all camels.

The 60-39 vote (one GOPer abstained) doesn’t get the Senate Bill to a simple majority vote — for the Senate can now filibuster the putting of the Bill to the vote, and several of the Blue Dogs have indicated that they would join such a filibuster if the final Bill contains the House Bill’s federal “public option”, a basic state-run health insurance company offering coverage at reasonable rates.

This makes it more likely that the far less effective “trigger option” will be offered — whereby a federal public option kicks in if the states can offer good enough local options and co-op systems.

However, the question now is whether the Democrats can be held together — with the liberal wing increasingly dissatisfied by the power wielded by the handful of Blue Dogs. Crucial to their power is avoiding a simple majority vote, which the mainstream of the Democrats could win easily — though the Blue Dogs present themselves as the “centre” of the party, most are simply of the right because they run in heavily Republican states.

Having compromised on a full public option takeover of state plans, on state-funded abortion, and on setting provider rates through the Medicare (65+ state care) rates, which would really bring fees down, they’re not in a mood to give any more — and worried about their own re-election prospects from the disillusionment of their base.

Could they, would they, sink the Bill, and Obama’s presidency, out of sheer pique? Surely not. Surely not. But arggggh the Democrats … never saw a fight they didn’t want to lose deep down.

There’s weeks of negotiations ahead before a combined Bill goes to the Senate. It would then have to go back to the House to have its changes ratified. The process now looks like it will head into January, which is good news for political junkies — less so for a hundred million or so Americans.

Mr Jefferson’s marvellous machine is set to keep on swivelling for a few weeks yet. Enjoy watching the music of the spheres.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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