Monday, March 1, 2010

Will Democrats be reconciled to health reform?

OK. President Obama's health care summit is over. The spin from the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders is that, having tried one more time to bridge the partisan divide with Republicans, Democrats can now, with a clean conscience, use the reconciliation process to pass final revisions to the Senate version of health care reform.

The Republicans have their own spin on the summit, and that's fair enough. Beyond the spin, though, will the reconciliation strategy work?

What is reconciliation? As we said last summer, reconciliation is a special parliamentary procedure permitting legislation tied to budget issues to be enacted in the Senate with 51 votes, rather than the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

Carrie Budoff Brown, one journalist tracking the politics of the health debate, argues that as a practical matter it will take three steps to use reconciliation successfully to enact the Democrats' plan:

  1. Both the House and Senate pass a reconciliation bill that provides major, but limited, fixes to the Senate bill.
  2. The House passes the Senate bill.
  3. Both chambers pass a third bill to resolve differences between the House and Senate.
Will this work? Brown may be overstating the complexity of the challenge facing Democrats, but even assuming that it's a two-step process, will it work? Can Democrats agree amongst themselves? Will centrist Democrats accept the President's proposal to delay for eight years the effective date of the tax on Cadillac plans? Can Pelosi and Reid convince their caucuses to compromise on the abortion issue: remember, the Stupak language is not in the Senate bill. Can they convince the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee (you recall that he too is a Democrat) that the strategy is even feasible?


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