Sen. Conrad: The Democrats' Health Care Strategy is UnworkableFebruary 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw
I have written about the basic procedural path forward for health care on this blog many times. Both chambers pass a reconciliation package through budget reconciliation, the House agrees to the Senate bill, the Senate bill is signed into law, and then, finally, the reconciliation package is signed into law. The result is a blend of the House and Senate bills approved by both chambers without the Senate having to vote again on breaking a filibuster, which they don’t have the votes to do now that Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] has been seated.
The Senate Democrats’ top budget guy told reporters today that the Senate can’t pass a reconciliation package tweaking a comprehensive health care bill unless the House passes the Senate bill first. And if the House won’t do that, he says health care reform is “dead.”
“The only way this works is for the House to pass the Senate bill and then, depending on what the package is, the reconciliation provision that moves first through the House and then comes here,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) outside the upper chamber this morning. “That’s the only way that works.”
I pointed out that House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has repeatedly insisted they won’t take a flier on a reconciliation package—that they will only pass the Senate bill after the smaller side-car reconciliation bill has been all wrapped up.
“Fine, then it’s dead,” Conrad said.
I see three possible ways to interpret what Conrad means.
1) Conrad thinks debating a bill that would amend another bill that is not yet law would lead to a procedural point of order objection that would be sustained by the Parliamentarian of the Senate.
2) The Senate doesn’t have the votes to pass the reconciliation bill unless they are certain that the House will seal the deal by passing it and the underlying Senate bill.
3) David Waldman of Congress Matters speculates that it may be that the CBO would want to score the reconciliation bill in conjunction with the underlying bill so that the budgeting numbers for the reconciliation bill would be insanely high, and that the budget numbers could actually affect what the Democrats can do on a procedural level.
Why he’s so confident about the current strategy not working is unclear. It is totally uncharted legislative territory — never been done before. I share Waldman’s frustration with the lack of detail here. Now that health care reform is just inches away from the finish line, the whole bill is pivoting on a few final details that need to be worked out, 90% of which are procedural. That’s why the big health care stories in the news today are about things like the history of the budget reconciliation process and the Republicans’ strategy to obstruct if the Democrats go that route.