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Obama Calls on Congress to Finish Health Care Using the Budget Reconciliation Process

March 3, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Very little new content in President Obama’s big health care announcement today. It was essentially a public version of the letter he sent to Democratic and Republican leaders yesterday, outlining the four Republican ideas from last week’s health care summit that he wants Congress to include in the final bill.

But he made his strongest call yet for Congress to finish health care reform soon and to do it with the budget reconciliation process if need be:

I believe the United States Congress owes the American people a final vote on health care reform. We have debated this issue thoroughly, not just for a year, but for decades. Reform has already passed the House with a majority. It has already passed the Senate with a supermajority of sixty votes. And now it deserves the same kind of up-or-down vote that was cast on welfare reform, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, COBRA health coverage for the unemployed, and both Bush tax cuts – all of which had to pass Congress with nothing more than a simple majority.

To be clear, Obama isn’t calling for the entire health care bill to be passed using the budget reconciliation process. The vast majority of what he wants in the final bill has already been passed under regular procedure in both chambers. All that will be done with budget reconciliation, with an up-or-down vote, is the 11-page package of changes to the Senate health care bill that Obama proposed last week, plus the four new Republican ideas he mentioned today. Most of this new stuff is not even really new — it’s compromise material between the slightly differing health care bills that passed under regular procedure in the Senate and the House.

The reconciliation bill still has to be put into legislative language by the House and Senate budget committees. Since everything that goes through budget reconciliation is vulnerable for removal under the Byrd Rule, the committees could decide to tweak Obama’s proposal at this stage. Basically, the Byrd Rule requires everything passed under budget reconciliation to be more than incidentally related to budget changes. For example, all budget reconciliation provisions must either affect outlays or revenues, or it can be cut by the Senate Parliamentarian at the behest of the Republicans. According to the Democrats’ new timeline, the final reconciliation bill will be ready for House action on March 23.

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