Republicans have gotten much mileage by railing against the insurance mandate, and it's a key point of contention with the teabagging Right. But the dirty little secret is that Republican senators really don't want it to go away -- it is, after all, an epic giveaway to the health insurance industry.
So Republicans are salivating at this win-win opportunity -- keep their corporate lobbyist friends happy, while also having a potent campaign issue with which to beat the crap out of Democrats.
The mandate puts the government in the untenable position of forcing everyone to buy a shitty product from private companies enjoying ant-monopoly protections. Funny how all the measures that helped people in this reform bill were stripped out, but the one that screws over many people and bails out a failed industry (that doesn't even need a bailout) somehow has no problem staying in. Yet another symptom of a broken government.
So here's the deal -- a progressive should step up with an amendment to strip out the mandate. He should get a non-Wall Street Republican to join him, be it Tom Coburn or Jim DeMint, one or more of those guys. And then force a roll call vote on the issue.
Republicans are then forced to make a genuinely difficult position. If they vote "yes" on removing the mandate, they help make the health care bill less electorally toxic, helping Democratic electoral chances in 2012, while also pissing off their insurance industry pals. If they vote "no", then they are exposed as being just as culpable on the issue as the Democrats driving their party off a cliff. In addition, the teabaggers will be incensed, and as we know by now, they're not shy about primary challenges.
So who will step up for the Democrats? Sanders? Franken? Brown? Burris? And who will join them on the GOP side? Coburn? DeMint? Gregg?
As a bonus, we'd get some good ol' fashioned "bipartisanship" we could all believe in.
Update: A similar strategy, from the comments, which could also work:
Pass the bill with the mandate, and then come back in January and propose a single-sentence bill to strike everything referring to the mandate out.
And make Joe and the Republicans filibuster a one sentence bill that every American can understand. You have to buy insurance because of Joe and the GOP.
Then introduce another one-sentence bill to remove the HI industries anti-trust exemption. And make Joe and the party of the free market (ha!) filibuster that.
Make the GOP and Joe own the bad parts of the bill.
Problem is, of course, that we're stuck with the mandate. But the mandate penalty is only $95 in 2014 (up to $750 in 2016). We can keep hitting them on this for the next few cycles.