Democrats Reach Tentative Deal To Fast-Track Health Reform
Congressional Democrats have tentatively agreed to include reconciliation language in the fiscal year 2010 budget resolution (H Con Res 85, S Con Res 13) to advance health care reform legislation, the Washington Post reports.
According to the Post, the use of reconciliation "would make it far easier to pass" health care reform legislation than attempting to reach a bipartisan agreement (Montgomery/Paley, Washington Post, 4/25).
The New York Times reports that using reconciliation to advance health care reform legislation reflects the importance President Obama places on health care reform. According to the Times, Obama's preference for reconciliation indicates he likely will be unwilling to compromise on health care legislation, "even if it means a bitter partisan fight" (Hulse, New York Times, 4/25).
According to Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the resolution would instruct congressional committees with authority over health care to produce a reconciliation bill by Oct. 15 (Washington Post, 4/25).
However, if a bipartisan bill can be reached before that date, lawmakers will work to pass that measure, according to the Times.
Conrad said, "Virtually everyone who has been part of these discussions recognizes that reconciliation is not the preferred way to write this legislation," but "the administration wants to have a reconciliation instruction as an insurance policy" (New York Times, 4/25).
Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he will push to complete a bipartisan bill before the Oct. 15 deadline (Washington Post, 4/25). On Friday, Baucus said he would prefer not to use reconciliation, adding that his goal is to produce a health care bill that could "get significantly more than 60 votes" (New York Times, 4/25).
Baucus said, "When you jam something down somebody's throat, it's not sustainable," adding, "I want something that will last" (Taylor, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/26).
The compromise resolution caps spending at $10 billion less than requested by Obama. In addition, the resolution would stop scheduled cuts to Medicare physicians' fees for two years (Clarke/Conlon, CQ Today, 4/24).
Congressional Republican leaders, who have been opposed to reconciliation, say that health care is too important to be passed with only a simple majority (New York Times, 4/25).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the inclusion of reconciliation language in the compromise resolution "would make it absolutely clear [that Democrats] intend to carry out their plans on a purely partisan basis" (Washington Post, 4/25).
Congressional Republicans have said that if reconciliation is used to restrict a filibuster on health care, they also will use procedural tools to prevent the passage of the resolution.
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said, "The floor of the Senate will become a very untidy place if they start using reconciliation for major policy" (New York Times, 4/25). He said, "What you've essentially got here is negotiations where one side decides to pick up a gun and load it, and the other side has the gun pointed at its head" (Wangsness, Boston Globe, 4/25).
The Road Ahead
The budget resolution conference committee is scheduled to meet Monday to finalize a compromise bill.
If a deal is agreed upon by the conferees, the resolution would move to both chambers for their respective approval (Washington Post, 4/25).
House Democratic leaders hope to pass the compromise resolution on Tuesday, followed by Senate approval on Wednesday -- Obama's 100th day in office (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/26).
Once the compromise resolution is approved, the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Appropriations Committee will begin work on the 12 appropriations bills that comprise the budget.
Obama is scheduled to release final details of his budget proposal by the week of May 4.
The House Appropriations Committee likely will begin marking up the 12 bills in late May or early June (Clarke, CQ Today, 4/24).
The decision by Obama and congressional Democrats to use budget reconciliation if necessary to pass health care reform legislation "is a deeply troublesome attempt to circumvent the normal and customary workings of American democracy," Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) writes in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Sununu continues, "It's a radical departure from congressional precedent" as the procedure "was never intended to push through dramatic and expansive new programs." He writes that using reconciliation "promises bitter divisiveness under an administration that has made repeated promises to reach across the partisan divide" and "destroys any incentive for good-faith negotiations over the details between the Democrats and Republicans."
Sununu writes, "Misusing reconciliation undermines [Obama] on two counts: It shows a lack of confidence in his own ability to pass an agenda using the regular legislative order," and "it exposes his limited experience with the history, traditions and temperament of the U.S. Congress" (Sununu, Wall Street Journal, 4/27).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.