Congress Approves $3.5T Budget Resolution That Includes Reconciliation Language
Congress on Wednesday -- President Obama's 100th day in office -- passed a $3.5 trillion fiscal year 2010 budget resolution (S Con Res 13) that includes budget reconciliation as an option for passing health reform legislation, the Wall Street Journal reports. The House voted 233-193, with no Republican support and 17 Democrats voting against the measure, to approve the resolution. The Senate then voted 53-43, with four Democrats voting against the measure (Bendavid/Hitt, Wall Street Journal, 4/30).
Under the resolution, congressional committees with jurisdiction over health care would have until Oct. 15 to pass health care reform legislation. If no measure is passed, health care overhaul legislation could be passed using reconciliation (Clarke, CQ Today, 4/29). Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said that he will work to avoid the use of reconciliation, adding that he thought it was unlikely it will be used to advance health care reform legislation (Dennis, Roll Call, 4/29).
The Senate committees with health care jurisdiction plan to produce a health care reform measure in June, with congressional leaders looking for votes on the legislation to occur before the August recess (CQ Today, 4/29). Any health care reform legislation must be deficit-neutral, although the resolution allows for payment over 11 years, according to the New York Times (Hulse, New York Times, 4/30).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has promised to deliver a bipartisan health care reform bill before the Oct. 15 deadline, the Washington Post reports. However, Baucus "faces a host of competing demands," with many Senate Republicans opposed to health care reform that includes a public plan option to compete with private insurers and many Senate Democrats demanding that such an option be included in any overhaul legislation, according to the Post.
In addition, fiscally conservative Democrats want the Obama administration to guarantee that health care reform will rein in health care spending for federal health programs and not only expand coverage. According to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), a leader of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, the administration's challenge is "to convince enough of us that their proposal will actually contain costs over the long term" (Montgomery, Washington Post, 4/30).
Obama next week is scheduled to release a more detailed budget proposal (Wall Street Journal, 4/30). Although the adoption of the resolution was "a first step" toward Obama's goal of universal coverage, the budget plan "skirts difficult decisions" on how to fund the president's coverage plans, which are expected to cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years, according to the AP/Boston Globe (Taylor, AP/Boston Globe, 4/30).
Medicare Physician Payments
In related news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Tuesday, in an effort to secure budget resolution support from Blue Dog Democrats, sent a letter to budget conferees promising not to take up legislation regarding Medicare physician payments, among other items, unless pay/go rules apply (Sanchez, CongressDaily, 4/30).
Although Democrats have said they want to work with Republicans on drafting bipartisan health care reform legislation, the "threat of reconciliation mocks" such negotiations at a time when "harmony" between the parties is "becoming more elusive," Post columnist George Will writes. According to Will, reconciliation "truncates Senate debate and curtails minority rights." Will continues that President Thomas Jefferson once said, "'Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities.'" Will writes, "Revamping health care ... qualifies as a great innovation." He continues, "This is especially so because the administration and its allies, without being candid about what is afoot, are trying to put the nation on a glide path to a 'single-payer' -- entirely government-run -- system" (Will, Washington Post, 4/30).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on congressional approval of the budget plan and reconciliation instructions. The segment features comments from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Pelosi and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) (Cornish, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/30).