Feb 20 2010

Update: Why Reconciliation? [Where HealthCare Stands]

Leading up to the mid-January special election for the late Senator Kennedy’s seat, I wrote a brief post on the Democrats’ backup plan if Brown won.  Well, Brown won, and reconciliation has been called for.  Here’s a deeper look at the process and how it’s being used.

Budget reconciliation is a provision of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.  In short, it allows the majority party to frame limited legislation that can be passed with little opposition.  The process starts with the yearly budget resolution that the House and Senate must draft for the coming fiscal year.  In order to meet certain mandatory budget goals, the budget committees of both parties can issue resolution instructions to individual committees demanding legislation by a certain date that reaches these spending or tax targets.  The Byrd Rule states that this legislation must produce a direct (non-incidental) change in outlays or revenues, meet the goals of its resolution instructions, and not tamper with Social Security.

The budget committees of each house then compile these compliant legislative reports from the individual committees and reformat them into a bill to be sent to the floor for debate.  Under budget reconciliation, these debates may not last longer than 20 hours (leaving very little room for any amendments), may not make use of filibuster (though the opposition party can challenge the bill on account of the Byrd Rule), and require only 51 votes (simple majority) to pass the bills.  The House and Senate reconciliation bills are then combined into a final conference report which is then voted on again and, finally, sent to the President for signing or veto.  In this way, the majority party can relatively easily pass any legislation that meets the budget resolution mandates.

 [Image removed.]

Though some consider it heavy-handed, it is possible to claim that social reform such as health care can be the vehicle by which the resolution instructions satisfy the budget resolution mandates.  An example of this is the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, the major welfare reform passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by (Democratic) then-President Bill Clinton.

All of this is important because four Senators (headed by Sen. Michael Bennett (CO) and including 119 co-signing House Democrats) have issued a signed letter urging Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (NV), to hold a reconciliation vote for the already-controversial health care public option.  Although the public option was dropped from the Senate health care bill in December 2009 and was heretofore considered dead, the Senators offer these four reasons for an attempt at budget reconciliation:

  1. It would reduce the deficit by over $130 billion in the first ten years and up to $1 trillion in the first 20 years.
  2. A strong public option would create better competition in our health insurance markets.
  3. There is substantial Senate precedent for using reconciliation to enact important health care policies.
  4. There is strong public support for a public option, across party lines. (DemocracyForAmerica)

Reid has publicly given his support to this endeavor, but it is important to note that President Obama has not indicated any support of his own thus far.  Given the heavy-handed stigma this process would generate for the Democratic Party, it is likely that Obama will not endorse reconciliation for a public option at this time.  

Instead, his efforts have been focused on the bipartisan Health Care Summit to take place on live television Thursday, February 25.  The summit has been called to discuss in an open forum ways to reconcile both Parties’ views of health care reform.  To show his commitment to compromise, Obama is expected to offer Republicans some serious ground, such as limits on medical malpractice suits.  Ground must be given by both sides, as so much is at stake here for each party in political image and legislative progress.

Do you think Republicans will be mollified or Democrats satisfied at the summit?  Would you support reconciliation to pass social reform/health care?

Comment and share this post to keep the discussion going!


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