Now that health care reform is moving to the floor of the Senate, Democratic leaders are parsing over the details of the bill, devising ways secure 60 votes for reform — starting today, however, they do not necessarily have to.
This past summer, the Senate wrote into its budget rules that beginning Oct. 15, they could use a procedural maneuver called “reconciliation” to pass health care reform, which would allow the bill to pass with 51 votes instead of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. A committee in the House of Representatives today quietly took the precautions necessary to allow the Senate to proceed with reconciliation, if it comes to that…
…Using reconciliation will remain an option until Democrats can get 60 members to cooperate — and the party wants to pass a health care bill this year. Liberal advocates for reform say getting all 60 Democrats to cooperate should not be difficult, even to pass a bill with the much-debated public option, since they do not even technically need to vote for the bill — they simply need to agree to not stand in the way.
Policy-wise, the reconciliation process is simply not intended for comprehensive pieces of legislation like health care reform.
The Senate rules allow reconciliation bills to pass with a simple majority and limited debate on matters that pertain to the budget — something the Senate saw as too important to be weighed down by partisanship. Since reconciliation bills must pertain to the budget, the Senate is not allowed to use them for matters that would set policy. For this reason, some lawmakers have warned that a reconciliation health bill would have to leave out important provisions (such as consumer protections), resulting in a “Swiss cheese” bill.
If the Senate were to use reconciliation, however, it would most likely include the non-budgetary — and noncontroversial items — in one bill and write a second bill to pass under reconciliation. Congressional staff have been crafting ways they could convert the current legislation into bills that could pass through that process, Weissenstein said.
The real challenge, Weissenstein added, is political.
“I think it would be perceived, certainly by Republicans and moderates, as a last ditch effort to pass something that didn’t have popular support,” he said. “If you’ve gotten to that point, in some ways you’ve kind of lost the war.”