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Reforming Health Care in the Budget

March 26, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

I linked to a piece earlier this week by Ezra Klein explaining the budget reconciliation approach to pushing contentious legislation through the Senate. Well, yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) left open the option of passing health care reform legislation with the reconciliation process:

“I think it’s something we need to consider,” Reid said.

At issue is a so-called reconciliation bill, which could pass with a simple majority of 51 votes and without Democrats fearing a GOP filibuster. Democrats would struggle to gather 60 votes needed to break a filibuster for something as complex as a plan to meet President Barack Obama’s goal of overhauling the nation’s health care system to cover 48 million uninsured Americans.

Revising health care via reconciliation has been viewed favorably by House Democrats. The House Budget Committee included language providing for the method in its annual budget resolution released Wednesday. Reconciliation is not favored by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and was not part of his committee’s plan.

White House officials reiterated Wednesday that it’s not their preferred method but they don’t want to take it off the table.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is attempting to write a bipartisan health care bill with his committee’s top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Baucus has said he doesn’t want to resort to reconciliation.

“We have to give this bipartisan effort of Sen. Baucus a shot,” Reid said, before enumerating the ways reconciliation could be done: either in a House-Senate conference committee convened to merge the chambers’ budget resolutions, or by having the Senate pass a second budget resolution.

“There are a number of different ways that can be accomplished, if in fact we decide we need to do that,” Reid said.

Obviously, the minority party, the Republicans, don’t want health care reform to happen this way. Over the past last, and especially last session, filibustering legislation has become standard practice. This has meant that almost every bill takes 60 votes to pass, not the normal 51-vote simple majority.

Sen. Judd Gregg [R, NH] is calling the reconciliation process “the exact opposite of bipartisanship” and “the Chicago approach to governing.” But, as Sen. Reid points out in his budget reconciliation info sheet (.pdf) it’s not uncommon for for the majority party (whether Democrats or Republicans) to use the process to push their priorites through:

The budget reconciliation process has been used most years since it was first used in 1980, including in recent years when Republicans controlled Congress and considered the following legislation:

* 2005 – Legislation That Reduced Spending on Medicaid and Raised Premiums on Upper-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
* 2003 – President Bush’s 2003 Tax Cuts
* 2001 – President Bush’s Signature $1.35 Trillion Tax Cut
* 2000 – $292 Billion “Marriage Penalty” Tax Cut (VETOED)
* 1997 – Balanced Budget Act
* 1996 – Legislation to Enact Welfare Reform
* 1995 – “Contract With America” Agenda
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