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The Final Olive Branch

February 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As Eric noted this morning, the White House has published their proposal for reconciling the Senate and House bills and finishing health care. You can see the White House plan here. It’s not a bill. It’s an 11-page .pdf containing dozens of relatively minor changes to the Senate health care bill, all of them spelled out in plain English rather than legalese.

The big news with the plan released today by the White House isn’t really about its contents, it’s about its format. The White House could have put out a full bill, written in legalese and numbering hundreds of pages, and then tried to push it through Congress. Instead, the plan seems to be designed to accommodate new ideas. Before anything can happen with it in Congress, it will have to be transformed into an entirely new document, providing a perfect time for new ideas to be incorporated. Anything added to the White House plan as it is transformed into a bill would get a special level of protection — the burden to get 60 votes in the Senate would be on those who want to remove it. If the White House had put out a final, carefully calculated bill and then used the bully pulpit to push it through Congress, like the Republicans have been charging, the 60-vote burden would have been on the Republicans to add their ideas.

If any congressional Republicans see a way to tweak this new health care plan so that they would want to vote for it, you can be sure that the Democrats would be receptive. The goal is still to pass this bill with 60 votes through regular procedure, and a bipartisan bill has been the goal all along.

But, while the White House is extending another opportunity here for bipartisan negotiations on health care reform, they are also making it known that if the Republicans continue to filibuster, they will move forward without them and pass it using budget reconciliation. It’s a sort of dare to the Republicans — reject the olive branch the White House is extending and the Democrats will simply bypass you and bring health care to an up-or-down vote. And as as Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] said last week, if the Democrats have to go that route, they will reinsert the public option.

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