Lawmakers Prepare for Budget Resolution Conference Committee, Reconciliation Likely Will Be Sticking PointHouse Budget Committee Chair John Spratt (D-S.C.) on Thursday said he hopes the conference for the fiscal year 2010 budget resolution happens "as soon as possible" so that the appropriations process can begin quickly, CongressDaily reports. A conference is required to settle the differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY 2010 budget resolution (HConRes85, SConRes13). Both versions include a deficit-neutral reserve fund for health care that gives congressional committees the flexibility to draft legislation they see fit (Sanchez, CongressDaily, 4/3). However, neither measure includes details on the cost of health reform nor what it would require (Young, The Hill, 4/4).
According to congressional aides, reaching an agreement on whether to use the reconciliation process likely will be the biggest challenge facing conference committee members. The House version of the resolution includes budget reconciliation language for health care reform legislation, while the Senate version does not.
Spratt said, "I have not seen the final product from the Senate ... (but) we are not that far apart, so hopefully we can write a resolution quickly." He added that congressional staffers will be meeting during the two-week congressional recess (CongressDaily, 4/3).
If reconciliation is included in the conference report, the committees that oversee health care legislation have until late September to report out a bill and bring it to the floor for debate, according to CQ HealthBeat. Some of Democrats' health care priorities could be affected by a Senate rule that requires provisions in reconciliation bills to be related to tax or spending decisions, rather than policy goals. Provisions that could be affected include a requirement that insurers offer coverage to all U.S. residents, regardless of pre-existing conditions and without varying premiums based on health status; a requirement that all U.S. residents obtain health coverage; and a requirement that employers contribute to workers' health coverage.
According to CQ HealthBeat, "Democrats are aware of the risks," which is why Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), House Ways and Means Committee Chair Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) prefer not to use reconciliation.
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said the health care bill is "replete" with provisions that Republicans could challenge under the rule. He said, "It'd be very hard to get (much of the health care legislation) past" the rule. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "I don't know what the point of doing health reform would be if you took out all of the insurance provisions" (Adams, CQ HealthBeat, 4/3).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "The Senate's budget reflects the fundamental priorities proposed by President Obama and recognizes that we cannot recover unless we make health care and education better and more affordable and reduce our reliance on oil" (CongressDaily, 4/3).
On Friday, Baucus said, "The budget includes a health care 'reserve fund' that will ensure a health reform bill can meet the budgetary rules when it is considered by the Senate this year," adding, "Health care reform is an investment in America's system that will reduce costs over time. This budget recognizes that investment by allowing health reform to be paid for in the long run and that flexibility is essential to making health reform work" (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 4/3).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday said, "There is no excuse possible not to act. The economy requires this," adding that health care and energy reform "must be done this year. ... We need to build a consensus, but we're on track to do it" (Davies, San Jose Mercury News, 4/3).