Democrats Revisit Reconciliation As Means To Pass Health Overhaul
Reconciliation, a parliamentary tactic that could allow Congress to pass health reform with a simple Senate majority, was dismissed weeks ago by centrist Democrats, but some of those lawmakers are now warming to the approach, clearing a possible avenue for passage of the overhaul, Politico reports. "Obviously, if the minority is just frustrating the process, that argues for taking steps to get the public's business done," said Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., one of the senators to reverse course on reconciliation (Budoff Brown, 2/23).
Other key Democrats who appear to be onboard for reconciliation include Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Tom Carper, D-Del., all moderates who typically favor bipartisan approaches and have criticized the reconciliation strategy in the past, the Los Angeles Times reports. Nelson said he was now "more interested in the package than the process." Landrieu said Republicans' calls for bipartisanship were a "faux effort" in this case (Levey and Hook, 2/23).
"Democrats increasingly have looked to reconciliation as viable option since Republican Scott Brown won a special election last month in Massachusetts to become the state's new U.S. senator, depriving Democrats of their 60-vote supermajority and sidelining the health care reform bills passed [by] both the House and Senate late last year," Fox News reports. For Democrats' reconciliation plan to work, House lawmakers "would have to pass the Senate health care bill as it exists now -- with no changes. Then the House would simultaneously have to create a reconciliation vehicle -- a second bill -- that would make changes to send back to the Senate" (Baier, 2/23).
Kaiser Health News has a story that explains how reconciliation works.
Meanwhile, "House Democrats also indicated that they are preparing to use reconciliation to pass health care," CNN reports. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., said, "reconciliation will be our platform. It has to be reconciliation." Other components of the bill that do not meet reconciliation rules could be voted on in separate legislation, Woolsey said. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a moderate, also defended the tactic, noting Republicans have used it to pursue their own agenda in the past (Barrett and Walsh, 2/23).
Republicans have protested that the procedure is not meant for comprehensive legislation, but NPR reports "health care and reconciliation actually have a lengthy history." The 1986 law that created COBRA benefits, for instance, was part of an omnibus bill passed through reconciliation, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985. That bill also included significant policy changes, such as EMTALA, which requires hospitals to accept Medicare and Medicaid for emergency treatment. The Children's Health Insurance Program was created in a 1997 reconciliation bill (Rovner, 2/24).
Meanwhile, CBS News reports, "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Tuesday that Republicans 'should stop crying' about the possible use of the parliamentary procedure known as budget reconciliation to pass a health care reform bill. Reid said reconciliation had been used 21 times since 1981, mostly by Republicans when they were in control of the Senate for the passage of items like the Bush tax cuts" (Montopoli, 2/23).
Still, The Boston Globe reports that Republicans are saying the fact that Democrats are discussing reconciliation on the eve of a planned bipartisan health summit Thursday is sending mixed messages. "'It seems to me that until the Democratic leaders take reconciliation off the table, it will be very hard to believe they intend to engage us,' said Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona." (Wangsness, 2/24).
USA Today: The summit's impact will be felt beyond the meeting itself, with three likely scenarios: pushing the bill through with reconciliation, starting the process over with more Republican input on a smaller bill or simply walking away altogether from the bill. "Democratic leaders say a comprehensive approach is best, but they are open to scaling back Obama's grand idea. 'We may not be able to do it all,' says House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. 'If we can't, then doing part is also good. There are a number of things I think we can agree on'" (Fritze and Wolf, 2/24).