With prospects for a bipartisan deal dimming, Democrats are considering the use of Byzantine budget rules this fall to ram through their own version of health care overhaul legislation without fear of a Republican filibuster.
The gambit is laden with parliamentary hurdles that could give GOP opponents plenty of opportunities to block key sections, and it might even require the Democrats to split the plan into two separate bills and try to pass them back-to-back in a politically-charged atmosphere.
“Reconciliation has the appeal of reducing the number of votes needed to get something passed,” said Michael F. Cannon, director of health policy studiers at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “But it adds so many other challenges that I’m not sure on balance it will make it easier for the Democrats to pass a health care reform bill.”
Although several committees have passed health overhaul bills, none of the proposals has gained Republican support. A six-member bipartisan negotiating team headed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is struggling to meet a Sept. 15 deadline for completing work on a bill to overhaul the nation’s health care system and extend coverage to many of the 47 million uninsured Americans. But with Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking committee Republican, and other GOP leaders now urging President Barack Obama and the Democrats to scale back or postpone action on legislation this year, Democratic strategists are poised to pursue the special budget rules when Congress returns from recess next month, according to House and Senate aides.
“We can get a lot through if we do the packaging right,” a senior House Democratic leadership aide who has been privy to discussions about alternative strategies said yesterday in an interview. “But it’s a strategy that everyone would have to embrace at the administration and leadership levels.”