Greg Sargent of The Plum Line does some great follow-up on Kent Conrad (D-ND):
In an interview with me just now, Senator Kent Conrad tore into the media for repeatedly botching its reporting on reconciliation, and confirmed that in his view, the current plan being entertained by Obama and Dems to pass reform via that tactic can, in fact, be made to work.
Conrad caused a big stir yesterday by saying: “Reconciliation cannot be used to pass comprehensive health care reform.” This was widely interpreted as claiming that the Dem way forward is a non-starter.
But Conrad patiently explained that the media interpretation of his comments is wrong. He was merely saying reconciliation would not be used to pass a comprehensive bill, and would only be used to pass the sidecar fix, which he said is workable, depending on what’s in it.
“Reporters don’t seem to be able to get this straight,” Conrad said, hitting the “misreporting” he said is widespread. “Comprehensive health care reform will not work through reconciliation. But if the House passes the Senate bill, and wants certain things improved on, like affordability, the Medicaid provisions, how much of Medicaid expenses are paid for by the Federal government, that is something that could be done through reconciliation.”
“A sidecar would be a good candidate for reconciliation depending on what’s in it,” Conrad said, adding that he didn’t think fixes to abortion or immigration provions would likely work, something that could create obstacles to passing the Senate bill in the House.
There. That's pretty much what we thought he meant.. Kudos to Sargent for giving Conrad the chance to straighten it out, though I do wish it'd come out straight when Conrad had the admittedly larger platform of the Sunday talk shows. Don't you?
Now on to the next round of questions.
Conrad also explained in new detail why he believes that the House must pass the Senate bill first, a view that has been denounced by some critics who want the Senate to pass its fix before the House acts.
Conrad said that under Congressional rules, for a reconciliation fix to be “scored,” it’s not necessary that it become law, but it is necessary for it to have passed both houses of Congress before getting fixed. “For the scoring to change it has to have passed Congress, and that means both houses,” he said.
“The only thing that works here is the House has to pass the Senate bill,” Conrad continued. “Then the House can initiate a reconciliation measure that would deal with a limited number of issues that score for budget purposes.” After that, the Senate would pass the same reconciliation fix, Conrad explained, because even on the fix itself the House must go first because the lower chamber must initiate “revenue bills.”
Is he talking about scoring the Senate-passed health bill, so that the drafters of the reconciliation bill will know what numbers they need to work with? That is, so that they'll know what numbers they're "reconciling" with the demands of the budget resolution adopted for this fiscal year? Or is he talking about getting a score for the reconciliation bill itself?
I can understand that reconciliation is supposed to reduce the deficit (even though Republicans have used it to increase the deficit in the past, when they've been clever enough to issue reconciliation instructions that actually called for blowing a $1.25 trillion dollar hole in the budget). So it does indeed make some sense that you'd need to be able to demonstrate that a proposed reconciliation bill does what the budget resolution's instructions say it should. And that's something you should presumably have to demonstrate before the parliamentarian will allow you to make use of the expedited procedure to pass it.
And I can understand that a bill's scoring changes as its legislative language changes, such that a committee markup will make a difference, amending it on the floor will make a difference, etc., and that a score awarded to a House-originated bill will not necessarily be valid once it reaches the Senate, or vice versa. Similarly, a bill will likely have a different score yet again when it passes the second house, and another yet again when both houses finally pass a unified version.
But it can't possibly make any difference how the reconciliation bill is scored after it's passed both houses, at least with respect to whether or not the reconciliation process can be used to pass it. That'd be completely illogical. So that can't really be what he's talking about, can it? Because by the time a reconciliation bill is passed by both houses, all the decisions regarding its eligibility will have been made already. If the scoring helps decide a reconciliation bill's eligibility for the expedited process, the score after it's passed can't have any bearing.
So in this case, it seems Sen. Conrad must talking about scoring the main health insurance reform bill passed by the Senate, presumably so that an accurate reconciliation bill can be crafted based on the Senate bill's dictates. He must mean that the score the crafters of the reconciliation bill will need to have in hand must be based on the finalized version of the bill, which typically means the one agreed to by both houses. That makes sense, but only to a point. Remember that in this particular situation -- even as Conrad describes it -- any of the paths forward are supposed to be contingent on the House passing the Senate bill exactly as it's now written, with no amendments whatsoever.
I'm not an economist, and there's a lot about how the CBO works that's still a mystery to me, but I'd have to guess that if the Senate bill has been scored, and the House plans to pass the Senate bill verbatim, then that probably means the score for the final version of the bill is going to be the same as it was when the Senate passed it. Wouldn't you think?
And if that's the case, then the score the bill got when it passed the Senate is the same score it's going to get when it passes the House. Which would mean -- unless there's more to it, and that could always be the case -- that the bill's pretty much been scored, and there's no such obstacle to the Senate dealing first with whatever reconciliation fix the House sends them, before the House takes up the main bill.
What do you think?