In a key development for breaking the healthcare reform logjam, Budget Chair Kent Conrad is defending reconciliation as a legitimate legislative tool and slammed Republicans for their obstruction.
The Senate "was not designed to have everything require 60 votes," Conrad said. "It wasn't designed to prevent important action on the problems facing the country." If a supermajority is effectively necessary to pass any piece of legislation, he added, this "puts a great deal of pressure on going to more of a reconciliation process to deal with things."
Conrad argued that it's not possible to use reconciliation—which requires merely a straight majority vote—to win passage of an entire comprehensive health care bill, as some progressives have advocated. (There are assorted rules that prevent this.) But Conrad noted that he's open to using this legislative maneuver to make limited, though significant, changes to a measure the Senate has already passed—provided that certain procedural kinks could be ironed out....
Conrad, for one, didn't sound like a man with doubts about the idea [of using reconciliation for hcr]. He said, "Frankly I think we have to reconsider the rules by which this body is governed," because the Senate "is in danger of becoming dysfunctional," and "there's going to be a building demand in the country to change the system."
That's a smart frame to push while pushing the majority rules vote on the Senate bill fixes--get political hits on the Republican obstructionism. That's easier to do now, for those Senate Dems all worried about being nice to each other, because it doesn't shine too harsh a spot light on why that obstructionism worked up until now--the willingness of Lieberman and ConservaDems to enable them.
That statement from Conrad bolsters a report from Roll Call [sub. req.] saying that Reid is seriouly considering the process, but not yet committed.
Asked whether that plan was still alive and viable for him, Reid said: “It’s something we’re going to take a hard look at. It’s something we’re looking at very, very closely. That’s where a lot of the procedural problems come in. It’s real tough to do it the right way and we don’t know how to do that yet.”
He should figure that out fairly soon, because there might "be a time constraint there based on a new budget resolution. ... The authority for reconciliation is under the old budget resolution,” according to Dick Durbin. “There’s no specific time limit, but you have to pass a budget resolution before you can start the appropriations committee allocations. So it all sequences.” It's not a hard deadline, but after April 15, the soft deadline for passing a new budget resolution, the process could be even more politically difficult.
Senate Democratic leaders met to discuss how to go foward yesterday, with Harkin predicting afterward that they would have an agreement on how to move forward before next month's Presidents' Day recess. Coming out of that meeting, Baucus and Harkin both rejected the idea of dropping the effort for now, and revisiting it later in spring. Unfortunately, Rahm Emanuel threw a potential wrench into that scheduling, telling the New York Times that the administration expects Congress to move first on "job creation, reducing the deficit and imposing tighter regulation on banks." Knowing the glacial pace at which the Senate has to move, that's a tall order to accomplish all before the cherry blossoms bloom.